Art in Public Spaces
The Sculpting of Space and the Urban Experience
By ELLEN HIATT
The fence at Grand Avenue Park is a work of artistic accomplishment and awe-inspiring craftsmanship. Woven like fabric from wrought iron to exacting specifications, artist Paul Casey’s “Where Sea and Sky Meet” overlooks the marina. Near it is a bronze bust of the city’s native son and Senator, Henry “Scoop” Jackson and a stone and rock mosaic, “Compass Rose”, by Glen Anderson.
Humans come and go, what remains is their art.
This little surprise of a pocket park is just one of Everett’s many gifts of art. From the arboretum’s sculpture park and the Port of Everett’s “Fisherman’s Tribute”, to Hoyt Avenue’s sculpture-lined art walk and Paine Field’s statement pieces, Everett’s contribution to art in public spaces is significant.
Carol Thomas, the City of Everett’s former cultural and development manager who was tapped by the Schack Art Center to become their Director of Advancement, helped to secure the works for the park, along with a number of special pieces in Everett’s hidden gem, the Evergreen Arboretum and Gardens Sculpture Park. As she walks through the garden on its glimmering crushed glass path, she stops at each sculpture, appearing to be very much in love with it. “Humans come and go,” she said. “What remains is their art.” She stops at “Fibonacci”, sculpted by Pam Hom, a convex dome with swirls of metal shaped like long fins, directing flowing water around and over it.
The Fibonacci sequence is among the most famous of mathematical formulas, and its manifestation can be found in nature in the shapes of leaves and whorling petals of flowers. It’s a fitting sculpture for a garden celebrating nature.
Another of the arboretum’s sculptures, Basalt, by Dave Haslett, was made to commemorate Everett High School’s beloved teacher, known for frequently saying, “Isn’t Nature Wonderful?” Andy Sudkamp, an arboretum board member, lost his life on a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon, where he was appreciating nature’s sculpting.
There is no extricating the impact of publicly accessible art from the effect that all of the public space has on a community. The sculpting of space is created by the cultivated gardens of the arboretum and the towering architecture of an urban environment.
There is no underestimating the effect that tree-lined streets and garden scapes have on a psyche, or the sense of wellness that comes from being surrounded by inspired architecture. A community’s well-being is tied to the creation of beautiful spaces. Everett gets that.
At Propeller Airport’s Paine Field Passenger Terminal, CEO Brett Smith is just getting started placing public art pieces, including two that were donated by his family to honor his father, “Red Check” and “Aurora”, both by Nova Mihai Popa.
“I wanted to have something in memory of my dad. He was somebody who made a difference and created a lot of jobs in his lifetime. He unfortunately didn’t get to see this,” said Smith, gesturing to the passenger terminal.
Paine Field won the Best Regional Airport award from Monocle Magazine, while also making USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice award for “Best Small Airport” in its first year of operation.
At the terminal entrances, the summer blooming Crocosmia create a sea of red before turning into wands of seed pods by fall. They wave before the brilliant, metallic blue of “Aurora”, reflecting the streaks of clouds and airplanes overhead.
Brett is devoted to ensuring every element on-site is curated for the aesthetic of the space, from the walnut ticket counters and the Swiss furniture, to the Arrival and Departures display board that digitally re-creates — complete with sound — the Solari style flip boards of yesteryear. The 1950s French fighter jet’s horizontal stabilizer stands at vertical attention in the lounge, where a two-ton chandelier by New York Architect and Designer Clive Lonstein defines the space.
Transforming Everett into a public art experience has taken time. Hoyt Avenue’s transition was facilitated by Wendy Poischbeg who, as the Cultural Arts and Marketing Coordinator for the City of Everett at the time, brought Balancing Act by Joseph Kinnebrew to town outside the Monte Cristo. Kinnebrew had an exhibit at the Monte Cristo and Balancing Act was placed outside its doors.
“The community said, ‘Let’s find a way to purchase it so it can stay’,’” said Poischbeg. “What’s cool about Everett is that many of the pieces in town have been purchased by the community.”
Mike Jordan’s students from his dance studio donated $50,000 to create “Simple Song” by Kevin Pettelle, who also created Fisherman’s Tribute. “It’s a magnificent and sweet piece,” she said.
As the sculpture was nearing completion and getting ready for the molding process, there was something not quite right in the eyes and cheekbones.
Kevin asked a small group of Mike’s family and friends to come together with additional pictures that he would use to add the finishing touches.
As he molded and sculpted in front of this small audience, tears soon began to flow. In front of their eyes, Kevin had perfectly captured the delight and joy Mike found through music and dance. — Wendy Poischbeg
Georgia Gerber’s engaging bronze of three girls dancing on Colby, while a boy and his dog watch from across the street, was also paid for by a private donation.
Gerber, like many of the artists represented throughout Everett, has worked throughout the region, including Locals on Edmonds waterfront, “The Boy and Dog” overlooking the water in Langley, and “Rachel”, the famous pig at Pike Place Market.
The “Balancing Act” sculpture — a series of red blocks built on top of each other, was funded in part by Craig Skotdal, Everett’s developer of downtown housing. He told Poischbeg he’d “sleep on it” when she asked for his patronage, so she sent him a CD of lullabies and a bath bomb for a restful sleep. He called her a week later. “Balancing Act” was his first sculpture funded downtown. Since then, every Skotdal-owned urban building begins with a consideration for public art, including the Dylan Works mammoth books hiding a PUD transformer outside Library Place. He kept up the literary theme with the Cal-Hoyt Pencils. The piece is one of many along Hoyt Avenue, marking it as the city’s cultural street with public art pieces, the Imagine Children’s Museum and the Schack Art Center.
Wendy had been pitching “art saves the children” when she realized from working with Craig that patrons like him wanted to know how it will affect their business. “Craig called me a week later and said a tenant in one of his buildings wrote a review that said they liked the art downstairs. I changed my pitch and stopped talking about culture and found data more specific to people’s choices about where to live and get a job.”
Skotdal said he enjoys seeing families interact with the art pieces, posing for photographs with the sculpture for a backdrop. “It’s just nice to see our hometown come to life,” he said. “We’re celebrating what makes Everett unique and giving people a frame of reference for what makes Everett special.”
Arlington’s community and city leaders are all on board with the curb appeal of public art, as well as the impact of art as a cultural focal point. The Arlington Art Association has been driven by Sarah Arney’s leadership and others to line the Centennial Trail with sculptures.
“Jean Olson was a big part of that, too, and I always say Virginia Hatch made me do it!” Arney said. She adds that she really did it for “selfish reasons. I wanted to see art when I went into town. I spent 10 years in the Peace Corps in Malaysia and I knew the power of art.”
Wendy Poischbeg said, “Sarah is like my mentor, man! She doesn’t wait for government to do it!”
Arlington’s mayor, Barbara Tolbert, is dedicated to ensuring art is funded, even in the hard times. “I think art in public spaces symbolizes a healthy, vibrant community that cares about its curb appeal and its impact and wants to create wonderful common areas and open spaces for the citizens.”
I think art in public spaces symbolizes a healthy, vibrant community…
She has worked with the city’s economic development director, Sarah Lopez, to create a more consistent funding for public art, which has already resulted in art benches and art in the skate park. The city’s art is now funded by 10 percent of the monies collected by the city for construction-related sales tax revenues.
Coastal Community Bank gave a nod to the past with its mural by Harry Engstrom, who has also painted murals on Arlington’s hardware store and Mexican restaurant. “It’s contagious,” said Tolbert. “Cascade Valley Hospital dedicated a portion of their funds to art, as well.”
Some of the public art is functional, like bike racks and round-about installations. Some make a statement. And other works give a nod to the region’s history.
One of the side benefits to the city’s new arts program funding: “During this challenging time when many people are unemployed, artists aren’t typically thought of. These programs keep artists working.”
This isn’t new for Arlington, which benefited back in the 1930s from the Federal Art Project of the Great Depression, intended to keep artists working. There are two murals in Arlington’s old high school painted by Richard Correll. The Federal Project also employed some of the region’s iconic Pacific Northwest artists, like Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. As Washington State’s first designated Creative District, the City of Edmonds has a head start on creating engaging public spaces. Edmonds has 35 permanent sculptural installations, 25 flower basket pole artworks and 203 indoor two- and three-dimensional artworks in public spaces. The numbers tell a story of dedication to creativity and community.
It’s a dedication to creative public spaces that goes back to the city’s first female council member, Natalie Shippen. Shippen passed April 2020, but her daughter remembers her as a tireless supporter of maintaining and creating beautiful spaces in their hometown. Natalie Shippen pushed for the creation of the Arts Commission, as well as for the water fountain that is the centerpiece of Main Street.
“She lobbied hard all the time about height restrictions, green spaces, flowers on the corners, in addition to art in public spaces,” said Sarah Shippen.
Her impact is still felt today. Besides the publicly owned art pieces, there are private efforts constantly underway to create murals lining the streets, as well as sculptures in front of businesses, many by local artist David Varnau.
Denise Cole, owner of Cole Gallery and chair of Mural Project Edmonds, a subcommittee of ArtWalk Edmonds, is excited about the installation of several new murals underway. Andy Eccleshall, a local artist, celebrated nationally, as well as within Edmonds, is painting in the style of Sydney Laurence, a renowned American Romantic landscape painter in the early 20th century.
The pair of murals will recall the Edmonds landscape in a tribute to the Indigenous people of the area before it was colonized by European settlers. Eccleshall is collaborating with Native American artist and Tulalip Tribes member Ty Juvenil, who has also been commissioned to carve an entrance piece at the Edmonds Historical Museum.
Camano Island, with its bevy of artists tucked away into salt water cove cabins and studios, is a treasure trove of talent. The pocket park entrance to the island is brimming with the talent and community spirit the island presents. Freedom Park’s interactive art installations include a work by local sculptor Karla Matzke and glass artist Jack Archibald.
Renowned painter John Ebner adds his touch by shaping the landscape as one of 20 volunteer gardeners.
Artist Dan Koffman, whose gallery greets visitors at the Terry’s Corner pie-shaped park, recently installed a 5-foot mosaic interpretation of New York Central Park’s Imagine Circle, where he first imagined the creation of a peace flag. The flag Dan Koffman created has since flown over 32 countries and now resides in Freedom Park. Fish Boy by Paula Rey, a whimsical bronze of a boy hugging a fish, is a favorite for kids to sit on. An eye-catcher is the giant whale, welded by Rick Wesley and completed with the rubbish recovered from the island’s shores by local school children making an environmental statement. The park includes a World War II ship’s bell, and the re-creation of a ship’s prow. The metal structure reverberates when hit with a hammer, recreating the sound of Pearl Harbor’s sunken ships when hit from inside by the sailors in their desperate attempt to be found alive. It was designed by local architect Dan Nelson and installed by Wesley and Natasha Clarke.
Further down the island, just past the Elger Bay store, Wesley’s driveway is adorned with tremendous dragons guarding the solar system gate and mechanical robot sculpture. This work earned him a spot in a 2012 Forbes article on the world’s most interesting driveways.
Also private, but accessible to the public, is Karla Matzke’s Sculpture Park. Holding as many as 150 or more works — an impressive number of rotating installations— the park is free to visit on the weekends or weekday by appointment.
Throughout the island and in Stanwood’s public buildings, libraries, and gathering spaces, you’ll find Jack Archibald glass. Visit the island, and Archibald’s work will first greet you, lit up at night like a beacon, in Koffman’s Freedom Park gallery. ✦
Read more about public art behind the scenes with Wendy Poischbeg
Read more about the inspired women behind art in public spaces.