Artist Harold Balazs dies at age 89

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In 2011, the Harold Balazs sculpture at South 40th and Bridgeport was restored to its former glory, thanks to Key Bank, which obtained the little masterpiece with the property. File photo

Artist Harold Balazs (pronounced “blaze” as in trail blazer) died Dec. 30, 2017 at his home near Spokane. He was 89 years of age.

Once designated a “Washington State Living Treasure,” Balazs worked on a number of public art commissions in Tacoma, primarily those done in conjunction with the designs of Tacoma architect Robert B. Price. He did the grand fountain piece (one of his famous “styro-cast” concrete pieces) in the plaza of the Bicentennial Pavilion. The City of Tacoma, however, decided that the Bicentennial fountain sculpture was not worth saving and had it dismantled in January 2016. Not all of Balazs’ works suffered the same fate, however. Key Bank at the corner of South 40th Street and Bridgeport Way in University Place had another of his concrete sculptures (also done in connection with Price) restored in 2011. There are numerous of Balazs’ architectural carvings inside Temple Beth El and a fine example of his metal sculpture work outside Tingelstad Hall (unlabeled) on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University. Many of the works done for Price-designed public schools have been lost. (The Tacoma Art Museum’s wonderful library has an artist file on Balazs, which includes a catalogue showing most of the work that Balazs did in Tacoma and surrounding areas.)

Balazs’ charming Bicentennial fountain sculpture was deaccesioned from the City of Tacoma public art collection and destroyed in January of 2016. File photo

Born in Ohio in 1928, Balazs first experienced handling of materials in his father’s sheet metal and air conditioning business. When the family moved west, Balazs attended Washington State University from which he received his bachelor of arts degree in 1951. From the 1960s on, Balazs started working hand-in-hand with various architects like Price. He was adept at integrating his designs into the larger schemes of the architects. The American Institute of Architects awarded him a gold medal in architectural crafts in 1967. Balazs served on the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) Board from 1973 to 1976 representing the city of Mead in Spokane County. While on the board, he served on the Education and Visual Arts Committees. It was during his tenure that the Art in Public Places program came into existence.

Harold Balazs. File photo

Of his work Balazs said, “The majority of my work has been nonobjective in nature. Replicating the known visual world does not interest me just now as we are living in an era of ideas. I am interested in juxtaposing disparate elements as a metaphor of the need for diverse ideas to coexist. In a reasonable effort to create a better existence.”

Balazs was a Pacific Northwest original and a pioneer in the arts who was forever inventive and retained his creative curiosity and enthusiasm throughout his days.

To view a video called “Creating Wonder,” made to commemorate him as a “Living Treasure,” visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=1cXCfGUbVRU.

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