Laura Lee Bennett has loved the Sammamish River since she moved into a condo on the west side of the river, right off Leary Way. Her third-floor balcony looks onto the waterway, and across to Dudley Carter Park, once called Slough House Park. A writer and poet, Laura makes her living as a technical editor. She moved here from Seattle in the 1990s to “be closer to the mother ship”—a large software company off SR 520.
Back in the ‘90s, Redmond was still a sleepy town. “You could stop at places like the Workshop Tavern—a biker bar on Leary Way with peanut shells on the floor—or grab a cone of rich ice cream from Theno’s Dairy on Woodinville–Redmond Road,” she says. “In those days, tech and aerospace were just starting to grow, with companies like Nintendo, McDonnell Douglas, and Honeywell—and Microsoft.”
In 2006, the Redmond Historical Society published a book, Redmond Reflections: From Settlers to Software, written by Society founder Naomi Hardy and journalist Dan Aznoff, that documents Redmond’s transition from tranquil farm town to bustling corridor of commerce. Still, the Sammamish River flows on, bounding the westmost entrance to the town like a moat.
At the park across the river, there used to be an old rambler-style house and group of statues carved out of wood. At that time, Dudley Carter, the most famous artist to come out of Redmond, lived in the rambler—he had been awarded an Artist Residency in 1987. Carter had his studio in the “Haida House”—a replica he built of a Native American dwelling—on the property. A number of Carter’s carved totems stood in the park. One of the most iconic and monumental statues is called “Wek-Wek The Falcon Man.” Dudley died in 1992, just before his 101st birthday.
In April 2004, there was a fire at the park that destroyed the rambler, and the statues were moved elsewhere. “Wek Wek” now overlooks the Pet Memorial Garden at Marymoor Park. However, the Haida House remains to this day. At one point, the City of Redmond had plans to develop the park into an interpretive center. Laura’s poem, “The Fire,” recounts the event of the fire and expresses her desire to see the park become that community center.
Dudley Carter spent his early life among the Native Americans in Canada, and adapted their story themes and carving techniques into his own style. Known for his totems, today his work is all over Redmond. The recently published book, Dudley Carter: Tales of the Legendary Wood Carver, by ‘Lyn Fleury Lambert and H. Mary Sikkema, is a marvelous collection of stories and photos about Dudley’s life and work, contributed by family, friends, artists, and patrons.
Laura strives to connect the arts and culture communities in Redmond with storytelling. Since 2003, she has volunteered with local literary arts organization Redmond Association of Spokenword (RASP), participating in poetry readings and workshops.
Occasionally she still emcees readings, and signs up for open mic. She plans to volunteer at the next Poets in the Park, a poetry festival and picnic that takes place at the city’s historic Anderson Park. Michael Dylan Welch, RASP board president and festival director, hopes that Poets in the Park will return in 2022.
In 2018, Laura joined local arts organization Venues for Artists in the Local Area (VALA), founded by arts activist and attorney Jessica Kravitz Lambert. For many years, VALA was based at Redmond Town Center as an art center and exhibition space, opening the venue up to other organizations like RASP for readings, and renting studio space to artists. Due to higher rents, VALA moved to the Totem Lake area in Kirkland for a year and a half. Laura currently serves on the VALA board as Events Coordinator.
VALA recently found a new home in Redmond, across from Downtown Park, in the “Zephyr on the Park” complex. In November 2021, VALA opened its new space with a show of works by former VALA board members, staff, and volunteers, called “We Are Here!”—a show that gave testament to the resilience of local artists in the face of the pandemic and loss of community spaces. VALA’s first show coincided with the opening of the City’s event, Redmond Lights, a month long showing of artist installations and light displays in Downtown Park.
Redmond Historical Society
Since 2016, Laura has volunteered with the Redmond Historical Society, and currently serves on the RHS board as Senior Vice President and Program Chair of its popular Saturday Speaker Series—bringing speakers on topics on local, state, and regional history to the community.
Laura seeks to bring people together, to “cross-pollinate” the diverse artistic and cultural communities in Redmond. ‘There are people making art, writing poetry, and doing performance—all storytellers, all arts activists. But often their paths and circles don’t cross,” she notes. Recently, the Society moved its offices back to the Old Redmond Schoolhouse. “It’s a huge space,” she says. “It has a museum and exhibit space. Also, there is an auditorium in the schoolhouse where the Society once held its Saturday Speaker Series. We would love to see the space become available soon to host other organizations’ events.”
In 2010, the first Poet Laureate in Redmond, Rebecca Woods Meredith, selected eight people to contribute to an anthology of poems based on photos from the Redmond Historical Society archives. Rebecca led these poets through six writing workshops. The project culminated in a poetry anthology that was published for Redmond’s Centennial in 2012.
One of Rebecca’s poems is etched in the metal of an interpretive display on the old railroad trestle that crosses our beloved Sammamish River:
Portraits of a River
In 2014, the Redmond Historical Society, VALA, and RASP participated in a 4 Culture -funded project led by artist A. Gaul Culley, called “Portraits of a River,” curated by Megan Tanner. Gaul’s dad, Dave Culley, had a company that had been involved in the hydro races along the slough. She got in touch with communities along the river, from Kenmore to Redmond to Woodinville. When Gaul came to Redmond and put out a call for volunteers, Laura and other local poets got involved with the project. They wrote poems about the river and gave a reading at the Redmond Library. Welsh-born poet Ken Osborne, a longtime RASP member, contributed a stark yet lovely poem about the river’s history.
The “Portraits of a River” project culminated in a huge community event at the Redmond Library. Gaul and Megan led a painting workshop, supplying canvases and paints, while Michael Dylan Welch, longtime member of RASP and the City’s Poet Laureate at the time, led a workshop on haiku, a form of Japanese poetry made of short, unrhymed lines that evoke natural imagery.
Families came and painted all afternoon. Haiku poems were written on paper leaf shapes cut from recycled grocery bags, a process inspired by local artist and past VALA board member Jacqueline Calladine. These paper leaves were hung in bushes along the river trail, or fastened to the tail of a large fabric kite.
Poetry and Love of the Sammamish River
Besides building cultural bridges, Laura continues to find solace and beauty in the river, and in Dudley Carter’s art. Gaul’s project inspired Laura to write a series of poems about the river. Here is a haiku:
A heron’s rasp
beneath the footbridge—
wing beats in the dusk
Another poem, about Dudley Carter Park, is called “The Fire.” It is a call to action. Laura would like to see a community center or interpretive center at the park—one day.
One night, old Dudley Carter’s house caught fire.
The woodcarver long gone,
but someone had been sleeping there.
We watched as flames devoured dry rot.
We counted fire trucks and passers-by.
Tall and somber Wek Wek,
Dudley’s monumental Falcon Man,
watched with us.
Sparks popped in the thick smoke.
Nothing this exciting ever happened along the slough.
Next week, rubble gone, septic tank gone,
chain-link fence, gone.
All the statues and totems, gone.
Someone had moved them all,
Dudley’s precious sculptures,
away from Man and Fire.
Only the shuttered Haida house remained.
Let us build a fire circle
in Dudley Carter Park.
Tell the stories of Wek Wek the Falcon Man,
the Daughters of the Star-people,
of Coyote, Eagle, Beaver, and Raven,
the Legend of the Moon,
the Rivalries of the Wind.
Let us bring the stories back.
In her experience volunteering with the Redmond Historical Society, and talking with local community members, Laura has observed that some old-timers welcome the newcomers to the city with open arms—yet others never stop grumbling. The sleepy town is changing as the old buildings come down and new buildings go up—many of them residential with commercial space on the street level. This time period feels like “the calm before the storm.” The Light Rail construction has cut off the old Connector Trail (formerly the railroad tracks) that borders Redmond Town Center and Bear Creek. Now the whole area is fenced where the Light Rail station is being built—and the City had to move a physically complex public sculpture, Erratic, to a new location.
Towns are woven together by people like Laura, who build cultural bridges that bring people together—artists and poets, old-timers and newcomers—who share a love for the Sammamish River, its flora and fauna, and the desire to preserve the stories that connect us all to this place. “It’s all about storytelling,” she says. “That’s how we come together—to share our stories, and understand what happened then, and what’s happening now.”
Bridges of Redmond Project
The Bridges of Redmond is a multi-year project by Redmond based presbyterian pastor, author and artist Jason Dorsey. Its purpose is to tell the stories of those who live along and love the Sammamish River to build “bridges” between newcomers to Redmond and old-timers and to bring people together across cultures and generations who share a common love and cause in this place. The Bridges of Redmond project weaves art and storytelling to celebrate this place and people. It will culminate in an art show of 365 paintings that follows the seasons along the river and a coffee table book compiling art and stories.
You can read past stories here:
Jason tells of his Redmond roots here
You can learn about past Redmond mayor Christine Himes here
You can discover the story of past Redmond mayor Rosemarie Ives here
Find out about a poet that loves the Sammamish Ken Osborne here