If you’ve ever walked to or from Lincoln Park via the south end of Beach Drive, you’ve probably seen a festively decorated garden featuring rubber ducks. Its owner contacted WSB some time back to let us know his legendary decorations were taking wing into a business. Sounded like a fun story rather than just a business blurb – so we asked the University of Washington News Lab, which offers help to small news organizations such as ours, whether one of its student journalists might be interested. Read on to see the results – the story behind the ducks, plus a message you can probably appreciate in these nerve-jangling times:
By Brittni Reinertsen
UW News Lab
We have all heard the phrase “an apple a day,” but what about a duck a day?
That is what Ron Sterling, a West Seattle psychiatrist, prescribes with his elaborate “ducky” garden displays. Using rubber ducks purchased on eBay, Sterling “duckerates” his curbside garden near Lowman Beach with holiday scenes monthly – and now he’s turned this into a sideline.
This all started for Sterling when he moved back to West Seattle in 2004 after living in Ballard for a while. At first, his talent for unique holiday decorating went no further than his year-round Christmas tree. But soon, he began dabbling with ducks. His first duck was a lamp decorated in October 2004. Two months later, he discovered the allure of rubber duckies.
“Duckies came into my life when I had the chance to garden and do garden art,” Sterling says. “It’s kind of unique in that it’s right on the sidewalk.”
The garden itself is at the south end of Beach Drive and features a 30-foot-long cement planter box. Six arborvitaes create arches that serve as the stage for seven separate duck scenes. A new display is featured every month, usually for a specific holiday. Favorites include New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and Cinco de Mayo. Sterling also has summer-themed scenes for the holiday-less months of June and August. Right now, of course, you’ll find Halloween scenes like this:
Each display is added to daily over the course of a week. Sterling says that it is definitely an ongoing process; it involves one piece at a time.
Sterling chose duckies as the main feature in his garden for several reasons: “On a conscious level, you can’t really look at rubber ducks without smiling. They have always been entertaining. They fit the whole Northwest world,” he said. Duckies can also withstand Seattle’s inclement weather.
Rubber ducks also appealed to Sterling with their creative potential. He described how each decked-out duck has its own unique personality: “I use pre-created duckies that have a theme to them as background characters, extras on a set so to speak.” There are also larger, 8-inch duckies dressed as specific characters including bat ducks for Halloween and a Santa “devil” duck for Christmas.
He estimates that his ducky kingdom, ruled loyally by King Lucky Ducky and Queen Lulu, is home to nearly 100 ducky subjects. However, Sterling emphasized that he is not a ducky collector: “I’m more of a ducky character creator than a collector. I’m creating these duckies all the time.”
Sterling refers to all his ducks as “lulu” duckies. His website, “A Ducky World,” at duckiesrule.com, describes the term “lulu” as meaning a remarkable person, object or idea. It is also a slang term used in Australia for “radical.”
Sterling also sells ducky-themed T-shirts, calendars, greeting cards and stamps at his Web site. The duckies are considered “lulu” because they are not manipulated or designed using graphic art tools such as PhotoShop. Rather, they are actual creations that exist in his garden for the sole purpose of entertaining kids of all ages.
In fact, one thing Sterling enjoys most about his duckies is the way they are enjoyed by both children and parents alike. Anyone taking a stroll along the street is welcome to view and play with his ducky creations: “I enjoy creating ducky scenes that are kind of complex and ironic. They (passers-by) haven’t seen these characters before. It’s a totally different image.”
A West Seattle resident lit up when reminded of Sterling’s home. She remarked that her 2-year old nephew enjoys playing with the ducks. So great was his admiration that he nearly committed a “ducknapping” once while passing by.
Others see local potential for the duckies’ popularity. “They would be a great mascot for West Seattle. I don’t think you could go to Burien and get the same response,” said Elhaum Vancil, another West Seattleite.
When it comes down to it, the purpose of Ron Sterling’s ducky world is to make people happy: “It really is talking about optimism. I think that’s really what duckies stand for. Duckitude, duckie therapy, ‘a ducky a day …’ If there’s any message, it’s about being optimistic, looking on the upside.”
To browse through his ducky offerings online, start here.
BRITTNI REINERTSEN is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.
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