Wandering through the streets of downtown Seattle back in November, I came across a number of interesting pieces of public art. On a previous trip to Seattle, I ventured out to the Olympic Sculpture Park to take in an amazing collection of public art situated right on the water just north of downtown. This trip was much different. My public art exploring ended up being mostly accidental encounters on my way to or from something else. These small, pleasant interruptions on my journeys, added colour and context to this lovely Pacific coast city.
As I was heading to a tour of Safeco Field, the baseball stadium of the Seattle Mariners, and on my way for a coffee in Pioneer Square, I came across the Fallen Firefighters Memorial by Hai Wing Yu which pays tribute to four firefighters who lost their life fighting a blaze in this neighbourhood.
A few blocks down the street, it is impossible to miss the 67,000 seat CenturyLink Field. As you approach it from the north, there’s a prominent tower that is decorated with four discs each 24 feet in diameter. “Earth Dialogue” by Bob Haozous is meant to remind us of our connection to the earth. Each disc has a story from the bottom one symbolizing the man-made world, the green one depicting life and growth, the yellow one representing the sun and the redemptive power of nature and the top disc of clouds representing the enormity of nature.
Along the west side of the stadium is a series of masks entitled “Colossal Heads” by Claudia Fitch. I’m not sure if there’s a deeper meaning to this installation, but I liked the pop of colour of these provided in breaking up this concourse.
As I got to the baseball stadium, “The Mitt” by Gerard Tsutakawa caught (pun intended!) my attention immediately. I loved this bronze sculpture of a stylized old-school baseball glove. Is it just me or does it look suspiciously like the Milwaukee Brewers logo?
Just inside the gates of the stadium is a really cool work of art by Linda Beaumont, Stuart Keeler and Michael Machnic. “The Tempest” is a chandelier of 1,000 translucent baseball bats. As natural light shines on this, the bats almost dance, giving a sense of the motion of a batter’s swing.
Also just inside the gates of the stadium is “The Defining Moment” by Thom Ross. This shows a playoff series clinching run that many in Seattle believe was what moved the city to build the new ballpark.
Returning through Pioneer Square on the way back to the train downtown I came across this totem by Duane Pasco. There are a number of totems by him in this square – this was my favourite.
On a separate visit to the Pioneer Square neighbourhood for a drink with colleagues after a conference day wrapped up, “Anawog” by Jan Evans made me stop. First, I liked the way the lights of the square made this piece stand out at night. I also enjoyed that it seemed like it was just dropped here – there’s no plaque for it (I had to look it up on my phone) and it felt like a whimsical installation. I came to learn from my phone that this was one of the first ever pieces installed as part of the city’s “1% for art” program to dedicate funds and space around new developments for public art.
Probably the most visually striking piece of public art I encountered was “Hammering Man” by Jonathan Borofsky. This work is one of a series of pieces installed around the world – Seoul, Frankfurt, Basel and seven other cities in addition to here outside the Seattle Art Museum. The 48 foot tall sculpture swings it’s mallet four times per minute, continuously, every day. Interestingly, in a nod to its inspiration, the mallet is not swung each Labour Day.
“Fountain of Wisdom” by Seattle artist George Tsutakawa takes up a prominent position in front of the downtown Seattle library. This particular fountain is special as it was Tsutakawa’s first of more than 70 fountains he created in his career.
Although many people pass this by without giving it a second look, “Pendulum Clock” by Heather Ramsay stood out for me. It’s a nod to the “Hickery-Dickory Dock” nursery rhyme and its purpose is to remind us how much time has passed us by since childhood. Clever and functional!
Another of my favourites from this trip was located right behind my hotel – “The Urban Garden” by Ginny Ruffner. The blue bells on this open and close and help this piece reflect Seattle as a growing and vibrant city. Over a couple of grey days, I really liked the colour it brought to this street corner.
Speaking of grey days, maybe the most self-explanatory piece of public art in Seattle is “Angie’s Umbrella” by Jim Pridgeon and Benson Shaw. The inside-out umbrella, a common occurrence in Seattle’s notorously wet and windy weather, swings around by its base as the wind catches it.
And no trip to Seattle would be complete without a visit to an organic piece of public art – the gum wall. Located down an alley at the Pike Place Market, people add to this virtually every minute of every day. The wall had been stripped of all its gum just a year before my visit so it looks like visitors are making up for lost time in getting this back to its original glory.