By Dave R. Davison
One of the highlights of Tacoma Arts Month will be a celebration and forum on the new Prairie Line Trail, which will add five great new public works of art to our civic collection. The two events run back to back on Thursday, Oct. 19. A “Walking Celebration” of the trail, beginning at 4:30 p.m., will be followed by a panel discussion hosted by the Tacoma Art Museum at 6 p.m.
The Prairie Line Trail is a mile-long park that has been in the works for a number of years now and is at last nearing completion. It will link the University and Brewery districts, the waterfront and downtown into one trail system. The mile-long stretch snaking roughly parallel to Pacific Avenue will be filled with historical information and public art, all of which deals with the history of this length of track which, once upon a time, made Tacoma the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad.
It is said that the Prairie Line was signed into being by Abraham Lincoln and built by the toil of immigrant labor on land stolen from the Puyallup Tribe. The Puyallup Tribal legacy and the contributions of immigrants (especially Chinese immigrants) are major facets of the project. But there is also attention given to the role played by the railroads and by industries, such as timber and shipping, that contributed to the growth of this dynamic city in which we live.
Of the new works of public art that are part of the project, the mural “Working Forward, Weaving Anew” by Jessilyn Brinkerhoff and Esteban Camacho Steffensen is complete. “Where the Rails Meet the Sails” by the Rotator Creative team is well under way. “Shipment to China,” originally made to be part of the Chinese Reconciliation Park, is going to be installed along the trail. The two remaining works are slated to be finished this coming spring.
Following the “Walking Celebration,” the gathering at the Tacoma Art Museum will have a panel discussion with several of the Prairie Line artists and moderated by Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride.
New public art for Prairie Line Trail
n “Where the Rails Meet the Sails,” by Rotator Creative
This paired sculpture and mural features a finger and thumb clasping a steel needle, followed by a trail of stitches. The title takes its inspiration from a late-1800’s promotional slogan for Tacoma, and the mural elaborates on this era in Tacoma’s urban development. Together, these elements tell the story of the Northern Pacific Railroad finding its end at Commencement Bay and the growth of urban Tacoma.
“Where the Rails Meet the Sails” is a metaphor for rails and sails being stitched together to complete the connection of the Northern Route of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1873. Here in Tacoma, trains traveled to meet the ships headed to San Francisco, Alaska, Asia, and beyond.
n “Pressure + Flow” by Matthew Dockery (to be completed by spring 2018)
A two-part installation, “Pressure + Flow” is a reflection on the power of technology and communication to transform a landscape. “Pressure” is a sculpture inspired by the inner workings of a steam engine, and “Flow” involves etched writing applied directly to the historic Prairie Line rails, excerpted from historic documents and letters.
“Pressure + Flow” reveals the hidden mechanisms, both technical and cultural, that have carried us into the present. As we travel daily in cars, bikes and planes, it is easy to take for granted the complex machines working to get us to our destinations. “Pressure” unveils the inner workings of a steam-powered train engine like those used in the early railroad era, providing an opportunity to interact with the usually unseen piston and pipes.
n “Shipment to China” by Hai Ying Wu
Commissioned by the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation in partnership with the City of Tacoma, this piece commemorates the early Chinese in America — their labors to construct the transcontinental railroads, and their unjust suffering. It consists of an antique train truck and abstracted representation of 100 ash boxes, a reference to the Chinese workers who died while building the railroads.
Thanks to the Chinese Reconciliation Project Foundation for contributing this important piece for exhibition on the Prairie Line Trail, now displayed on the very tracks that the Chinese worked tirelessly to build.
n “Nexus” by Ryan Feddersen (to be installed spring 2018)
“Nexus” creates a space for playful learning. Presenting a series of replicas of luxury goods that were traded between the Puyallup and other coast and interior Salish tribes, it offers a representation of the trade networks that spanned the continent prior to European contact.
Taking inspiration from the childhood games of “playing store,” this artwork is staged as a trading space that you can step into, making room for imaginative play while also learning about the relationships between Native American tribes. The artwork references the exchange of goods, people, and cultural interactions along pre-colonial trade routes. The inter-tribal trade network was vast, but main lines connected the Pacific Northwest coast most closely to the Subarctic, California, and Plateau — the region represented as a trade partner in the artwork.
n “Working Forward, Weaving Anew” by Esteban Camacho Steffensen and Jessilyn Brinkerhoff
“Working Forward, Weaving Anew” is a 13,000-square-foot, team-created mural. It intertwines scenes of hand production: Puyallup basket weaving, logging, furniture-building, and present-day weaving, telling a site-specific story of the changing attitudes towards the natural world.
This 50-foot-tall mural was hand painted in a span of six weeks with help from a team of nine Native American artists: Bruce Speakthunder Berry, Andrea Bob, Lloyd Neeka Cook, Anthony Duenas, Kanani Miyamoto, Ariella Pool, Elisabeth Tail, Charles Taylor, and Paul Valencia.