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Brienne: The rags to riches dragon tale in Renton

There’s a lot of community pride in Brienne, the life-size dragon sculpture that was recently paraded through downtown Renton as part of the city’s River Days festivities. But what many spectators likely didn’t know is that Brienne, despite all the local fervor for dragons, has had no official home for years.

That is, until now.

“Now she has an exquisite space …” said artist and sculptor Kim Beaton. “I am absolutely elated that Brienne has a home.”

It took many characters in this dragon’s rags to riches tale. Dozens to create Brienne, then to generously house her while she awaiting a permanent place to stay, and ultimately to provide her an upscale place to call home.

PHOTOS: Renton’s rooftop dragon lights up downtown

Brienne the dragon

Renton actually has three dragons. As far as I know, that’s the most dragons per capita in Washington. You’ve likely heard of its rooftop dragon. It’s pretty hard to miss — it’s perched atop a building, with lights, overlooking the downtown. There’s another work of art at the nearby offices of Wizards of the Coast.

But Brienne — which is a Celtic name meaning “strong” or “noble” — holds a special place in the heart of Renton. The community literally had a hand in creating her.

Brienne was created as a promotion leading up to the inaugural Renton City Comic Con in 2016. There was one problem, however. After the event in 2016, and after Brienne was finished, there was no place to put her.

Beaton spent months in a downtown Renton storefront sculpting Brienne. But she had help. The community was invited to walk in and contribute — even if they had never used clay or sculpted before.

“Someone would walk in, I would hand them some clay, and I would say ‘sculpt this little space that’s about 9 inches on the side,'” Beaton said. “And they would …. experience as a sculptor isn’t necessary; I have that. I’m the sculptor. Experience with design isn’t necessary; I have that. It’s a process.”

“When you look at Brienne and you see this patchwork, glittering surface of thousands of scales, it’s because dozens and dozens of people all individually sculpted it,” she continued. “And it looks pretty slick.”

The sculpture was crafted using a special clay that Beaton’s husband spent months to invent. Many sculpting materials strong enough for outdoor conditions can be toxic. Brienne is made using this one-of-a-kind non-toxic material. It goes on with the consistency of bread dough, but cures to be as hard as stone. And that’s how many, many different hands from this town created this one work of art.

Dragon nest

There was excitement when the dragon was being finished. Brienne made it into the Renton newspaper. But if you wanted to see Brienne over the past three years, you had to visit her at the Evergreen Market, which is Renton’s pot shop. The store generously put a roof over her head until she was able to find a more permanent home. Brienne has not had any visitors under 21 for quite a while.

That’s why Ben Andrews stepped in. Andrews is involved with the comic con, and also works with the local chamber of commerce. He shook hands, had a few conversations, and a few months ago, he introduced Brienne to Michael Christ.

“His excitement and commitment to it is pretty infectious,” Christ said. “He showed me a picture, I liked it, and so I’m going to blame it on him.”

“It was well-sculpted and I think it brings an interesting presence,” he said. “There is a lot of commitment to art in the Renton community …. I think (Brienne) is compatible with the tech community. You have Wizards of the Coast down there. There’s now another dragon perched on top of a building in the historic center. So there seems to be … an affection towards dragons (in Renton).”

Christ is the developer of the Southport area in Renton. It’s a mixed-use project along the shores of Lake Washington with offices, living space, restaurants, and a Hyatt Regency. Now, it also includes a dragon nest.

“There’s a lot of feng shui that was adopted into the development of all of Southport,” Christ said. “And dragons have a roll in that … they bring good energy into that area.”

Why not bring a little good luck and energy to a new development?

So last month, when Brienne finished the parade, she was not taken back to her indoor confines. Instead, she was brought to her new home in Southport, outdoors, where everyone can visit her.

“There was a crowd around it as it was being brought off at the site,” Christ said. “We have some cinnabar elephants from China, and they are all facing the water … Right now, she’s greeting a thousand people a day as they come in and out of the Hyatt Regency.”

The hope is that folks will see how happy Brienne is at her new home, and perhaps more dragons will come to Renton.

“Show me a culture that does not have a dragon…” Christ said. “Now all of a sudden we are getting people who want to participate in dragon boats in the cove down there. It’s interesting to see what could happen out of this.”

“I loved being in Renton, I loved working with that particular community to make a dragon,” Beaton said. “And I would happily do it again in a heartbeat. So, Renton was awesome.”

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