‘Hard Rock Miners’ sculptor dies in Oregon

The sculptor behind Juneau’s iconic “Hard Rock Miners” sculpture has died.

Edward Seth Way was curator of exhibits at the Alaska State Museum when he was commissioned to create a piece of art to celebrate Juneau’s centennial.

Way’s resulting life-sized bronze sculpture was installed in 1981 in Marine Park and has been the subject of countless photographs since.

Way’s wife, Gloria, remembers the three years of work it took to complete. “We rented somebody else’s garage,” she said.

At the time, the couple and their daughter were living in a home near the Governor’s Mansion.

“He did it there (in the rented garage), and then he had to transport it down to Oakland to a foundry there,” she said. “Then he was down there a number of months, casting the bronze and doing all of that.”

Gloria recalled how Way created a unique plasticine formula that hardened so tough that Way had to sculpt with a blowtorch in one hand to make the material soft enough to work. “As he took the blowtorch away, it would harden up right away,” she said.

Way was born Jan. 14, 1940 to Seth Edwin Way and Bertha Reinell Way in Everett, Washington. He grew up in and around Everett, graduating from Anacortes High School in 1958.

He was a state wrestling champion and all-star football player, but he accumulated a love of art after growing up around his grandfather’s boatworks.

He studied art at the University of Washington and the Art Center of Los Angeles, eventually working as an architectural illustrator and designer in both Washington and Alaska.

Way married Gloria Houston in Juneau in 1972, and in 1974 they had a daughter, Jennifer.

After completing “Hard Rock Miners,” Way built custom furniture and worked as a museum consultant.

When the State Office Building was under construction, Way supervised the installation of the towering totem pole that still stands in the building’s atrium. Gloria recalls how Way had to estimate the exact spot for the totem’s anchoring bolts, which had to be drilled through the concrete walls of an earthquake-hardened elevator shaft. “Then they all crossed their fingers when it came time to erect that thing and hoped the holes were in the right places,” she said.

Way also supervised the installation of the Eagle Tree in the Alaska State Museum. That permanent exhibit inspired a replica that has a place of pride in the State Library, Archives and Museum now under construction.

“He would’ve liked to have known that because he was afraid they’d tear it all down,” Gloria said.

Gloria recalled that Way didn’t care for abstract art in public, where pepole might not appreciate it, and he was outspoken in his objection to pieces like Nimbus, now installed in front of the SLAM.

“In Juneau’s history, there’s been some pieces of art that have been completely abstract,” she said. “He (didn’t) think that was an idea for public art.

In 1986, the Way family retired and moved to Port Townshend, Washington, before moving again to Washington’s Rogue River Valley in 1996.

Way was diagnosed with cancer in early 2011 and died Oct. 7 in Medford, Oregon.

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