The 18-foot-tall thunderbird totem pole in West Seattle’s Rotary Viewpoint Park, carved by Native American Robin Young in 1976, does not look its age, thanks to local art collector C.E. Jenks, who absconded with it in 2009. “He was this quirky, old wealthy guy who got this crazy idea to put it in the house he was building in Black Diamond,” says Myke Smith, whose truck Jenks rented to move the pole, claiming he was a Seattle Arts Commission art restorer.
Jenks took off with the prized sculpture, but thanks to some ace sleuthing by West Seattle Rotarians, the piece was recovered. Young’s totem really did need restoration work, as it was afflicted by beetles, termites and rot. So Jenks paid $17,745 for the totem’s restoration, plus around $3,000 to repay the city for the cost of investigating him.
“He had an interest in Indian art,” says Smith. “On the shore of his place in Sawyer Lake, he had all kinds of life-size stone sculptures of Indians, 3 or 4 tons’ worth, like a squaw with a papoose.” A phone number listed as Jenks’ is disconnected, and the 75-year-old could not be located for comment. Now, Young’s restored thunderbird stands guard over West Seattle with extended wings, free of rot. Doesn’t that make Jenks an inadvertent philanthropist—sort of a perverse hero of art? “I guess you could look at it that way,” says Smith.