The Loved and Lost Memorial Bench is a work in progress at Brad Hughes' studio on Beluga Slough in Homer.
Its purpose is to make a space for contemplation and to draw attention to the many people who go missing every year. The bench is commissioned by the family and friends of Anesha Duffy Murnane, a Homer woman who has been missing since 2019. KBBI's Kathleen Gustafson visited Hughes' studio for this report.
Sara Berg is Anesha Duffy Murnane's mother. She has been organizing and searching for her daughter. Duffy, since she went missing at 38 years old on October 17, 2019. After about a year of searching with no leads, Berg's focus changed. Her Bring Duffy Home group didn't stop looking but also wanted to bring attention to the many people in Alaska with a missing loved one. Berg says she envisioned the design when she received a piece of mail.
" We got the stimulus check for Duffy. We didn't expect to get one. And there it came because she was on our taxes in 2019. I was like, wow, $1,400. Well, we should do something for Duffy with that. And then I immediately thought of my bench and I just thought of a normal bench," Berg said.
But this is no normal bench. Once she started collaborating with Homer Artist Brad Hughes, the project grew...and grew. From that $1,400 stimulus check, the Loved and Lost Memorial Bench Go Fund Me has raised over $14,000 so far to build it. Duffy's brother, Gregory left his job in Seattle a month ago to assist with building the structure.
"The bench is gonna end up being like seven and a half feet wide just to accommodate the size of the characters, just to get the emotion in the faces and things. It was important to get the distance and the relationship between those two groups posing and reaching. And now we've moved on to the more fun bit of putting the clay," Murnane said.
The two groups of almost life-size figures are carved, first, in foam and mounted on a base that will eventually be filled with concrete. Brad Hughes is laying warm clay onto the relief of the faces, hands and bodies of missing, lost people on one side of the bench and the people who mourn and search for them on the other.
"So this is our locker for hot clay. We got a heater in there. And that allows the clay to be like this instead of the rock than it is when it gets cold," said Hughes.
The clay locker is an old refrigerator with a heater inside set to 90 degrees. Hughes takes clay out of the locker and works it with his hands and small tools. He and Sara Berg have spent the last month developing the relationships between the figures, discussing gesture and expression.
Berg: "Can you.... Are you ready for some input here?
Hughes: " Sure. Yeah."
Berg:' "I'd like a little strand of hair over the ear a little bit."
Hughes: "Let's just do it. You ready to do it?"
The bench was approved by Homer City Council this week at their regular meeting on Monday. Next week, the Library Advisory Board will meet and decide if the bench will be placed on the Homer Public Library grounds. Berg says she doesn't want the project to end with this one bench. The plan is to continue the project to build them and place them around the state, to create a place in common for all Alaskans who search and wait for news of missing children, parents, siblings and friends.
"I just want to see it out there where these other mothers could sit on that bench and try to be with their child. And I hope this bench will give them some comfort, Said Berg, " It's definitely giving me comfort. It keeps me busy, keeps me focused. "
Yesterday, Thursday, June 17, Anesha Murnane's family was on the docket at the courthouse in Homer to hear her declared legally dead, though her body has never been recovered.The search for all missing and murdered people in Alaska goes on for so many families.
There is extensive video and documentation of the bench in progress on the Bring Duffy Home Facebook page. Donations to the project can be made on Go Fund Me. Search for Loved and Lost Memorial Bench.
From Brad Hughes' workshop on Beluga Slough in Homer, I'm Kathleen Gustafson.