"Every year on your birthday, you get a chance to start new." -Sammy Hagar
* * * * *
For her birthday on June 17, my second-born hopped on a plane and flew across the country to spend the day with me.
Well, maybe also her father and sisters. And cats and dog.
But you know, mostly me.
She deliberated carefully about how to spend her big day, wanting to best honor the special moment of reckoning and renewal and redirection that a birthday can provide.
And she made two excellent choices:
1. Lunch at Thai Tom's.
2. A stroll through the sculpture park.
It's only fair to point out that we have done both of these things many, many times before. But after the long Covid recess and the resulting palpable hunger for familiar, fascinating places, we set off with high hopes.
* * * * *
Lunch is a dream. As always, my daughter orders the Pad Thai and I go for the Number 15, Swimming Rama. The dining room of the tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant is still closed, so we sit in the car, sun streaming through the back alley on which we are parked and lending a cheerfulness to the dumpsters in our view, and eat every single bite.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is, as always, a double dream.
^ Wake | Richard Serra
Have you ever visited a dry dock shipyard and walked among the gigantic rusting hulls of silent, super-sized sea-going vessels? Yeah, me neither. But if I ever did, I think it would feel very much like this place. Giant, rusty yet oh so svelte behemoths rest in a broad bed of gravel near the entrance to the park, and I take a certain joy as I crunch along between them, knowing that I'll be back in just an hour or two to bid them farewell.
^Sky Landscape I | Louise Nevelson
When my second-born was in college, she devised a sculpture based on this artist's work. With my husband's help, she built a wood three-dimensional display where two boards - about one foot by three feet each - intersected each other on their vertical lengths at right angles, and created four triangular niches. She then collected up an assortment of interesting household trash - glass bottles, plastic lids, tubes and straws and a jumble of similar things - and attached them all in aesthetically pleasing arrangements in the four display areas of the wood contraption. Then, the coup de grace: she covered every inch in black spray paint. Whenever I look at this sculpture, intricate and unrelentingly black, I think of my daughter's project. And I am inspired.
^ Perre's Ventaglio III | Beverly Pepper
Maybe you've seen a fairly famous painting called Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 by a French chap named Marcel Duchamp, which is extraordinary because it shows multiple versions of the same figure, in various static poses that together almost trick your eye into seeing the figure actually moving down the stairs. This silvery, shiny piece that almost camouflages itself in its lush surroundings gives me the same sensation - as if there is one single mirrored frame tumbling out of the garden and falling at my feet - and I like it.
^ Eagle | Alexander Calder
I've been obsessed with Calder since my art humanities class in high school, and I'm well chuffed to boast my very own hometown piece of his work. And what a perfect specimen - a delicate, soaring construction of no-nonsense steel, perched on the steep hill above Puget Sound and looking ready to flap its wings and soar off over the blue. I also adore the many personalities of Eagle, and entertain myself by capturing it from different angles and vantage points all around the park.
^ A sneak peak as we approach Eagle from the leafy, well-landscaped city side of the park. I'd recognize those skinny orange legs anywhere.
^ Looking west across the water toward the Olympic Mountains, and now you know how the park got its name.
^ Admiring a close-up of those gorgeous rivets and industrial construction.
^ Looking back toward the city - this is Belltown, just south of downtown Seattle and famed as the fictional home of Frasier, if you have any memory for Twentieth Century sitcoms.
^ When I work the angles just so, I can pop the good ol' Space Needle under the Eagle's wing, and she becomes a mother bird caring for her iconic chick.
^ Stinger | Tony Smith
Some people think this almost-four-sided geometric shape looks like a scorpion prepared to attack, and I can see their point. Still, whenever I'm visiting this piece, I do my best to block that terrifying image, and enjoy the simple fun of walking around the outside, and then the inside, of this interesting shape. The little girl-me wants to play house here inside the cozy confines, and I can see myself laying my dolls into their wood chip beds tucked up in the rectangular shadows of Stinger, as if they were trundle beds in an attic bedroom.
^Seattle Cloud Cover | Teresita Fernandez
A layer of some kind of holographic-ish material sandwiched between layers of glass. That's my inexpertly technical description of this piece. But what I can say with much more certainty is that on an overcast, drippy kind of day, the colors of this piece glow with an unworldly beauty and standing underneath the upper ledge feels to me like a technicolor umbrella. It's nice on sunny days too.
^ Stinger and Seattle Cloud Cover
Even better than examining each sculpture on its own is when I look from one to another and notice how they interact with each other. Though it's a perfect summer day today, I imagine how the colors of Cloud Cover would glow on an overcast day, and my well-trained sensory memories of rain can feel the tiny raindrops collecting on Stinger, and I can already see them running together and eventually cascading down the black metal in big, fat drips.
^ Father and Son | Louise Bourgeois
Funny story about this piece. Seems that a man named Stu Smailes left a gift of a million dollars to the city of Seattle for a fountain, with one small stipulation: the art must feature a realistic nude male figures. Mhmm. So the artist gave him a two-for-one deal - you see the father on the right, but inside the bubbling spray on the left hides his son. The water alternates high and low, intermittently hiding and revealing them to the world, symbolizing the vulnerability of nudity, or so I've read. I mostly like to look down at the splashing water from above.
^ Schubert Sonata | Mark di Suvero
If music could be made into steel, and hammered and welded into delicate shapes that gently rotate as they catch the wind, I'm inclined to think it would look like this. Which means that the artist hit is mark, because that seems to have been his intention for the piece. But I wonder if he knew his creation would be placed here at the edge of Elliot Bay, where the blue water and sweeping mountain views add a lyrical context to this simple instrument. I hope that he is please.
* * * * *
There are plenty of other delights tucked into the park, but my trigger finger becomes weary and I slide my phone into my pocket, content to wander and wonder and enjoy each sight in the moment. Soon enough, our adventure feels complete, and we retrace our steps, peeking round corners here and there to say goodbye to our favorites. Almost to the car, we walk back into the shadows of Wake.
A happy birthday trip.
An invigorating start to my daughter's new year.
And a delicious reminder that all the joys of the big, beautiful world are still here for us, ready to transport us to wherever our imaginations might want to go.
* * * * *
Stories about my trips to the Olympic Sculpture Park, with photos galore.