Seattle artist John Grade begins work on larger-than-life SeaTac Airport sculpture
In a nondescript warehouse in South Seattle, across the highway from White Center, a team of artists is hard at work creating unusual installations that pay tribute to the natural world. They are bringing the visions of Seattle artist John Grade to life.
Under a covered space outside, they frantically assemble a piece that will soon be shipped to Italy. Another group inside pieces together a purple, wooden sculpture that will be partially submerged in water, and in another room, a crew is building an installation inspired by pingos, or mounds of earth found in the Arctic.
Grade and his team are working on about 14 projects at the moment. Included in the mix is a piece that Grade designed for the new terminal at the Sea-Tac International Airport.
Grade is getting a jumpstart on the project, which will be installed in 2021.
And any piece stretching 77-ft. long, 45-ft. tall and 25-ft deep requires a lot of forethought.
“This is a slow, percolating thing,” the Seattle artist said. “You can’t build too much too quickly.”
The piece will almost be a companion to Grade’s “Middle Fork,” currently installed at the Seattle Art Museum. The web of wood at the museum was sculpted to match a living tree in the Cascade foothills.
The installation in SeaTac, however, will focus more on the roots of the tree. The structure will be perched above the escalator that will carry travelers to and from the gates at Alaska Airlines—and will cast a shadow that almost resembles the rings in a slice of tree.
“When you come up the escalators, you’re underneath it,” Grade said. “You might not understand what it is or that it’s related to a tree initially.”
The scale of the sculpture could make it seem more abstract at first, he explained. “You might ask what this is,” he said.
He welcomes the sense of wonder and exploration.
Once viewers step away, the trunk and the roots will become more obvious. Grade hopes that the art will warrant a return visit and further look.
Grade said that having his art in the airport appealed to him because of the unique audience there and the extended time viewers have to explore the piece.
In addition, he welcomed the opportunity to provide travelers with a respite and a reminder of nature, especially the flora of the Pacific Northwest.
“We’re often stressed or annoyed or bored when we travel,” he said. “How do we get people out of that place and nudge them back to that feeling we have in the natural world.”
The medium used in the work is salvaged Alaskan Yellow Cedar, a glowing wood that will be shaped into the delicate outcropping of roots and the sturdy midsection of the tree.
Crews will build the structure in large sections, which later will be assembled at the airport with the help of a network of scaffolding.
Colleen McPoland, art program manager for Sea-Tac Airport, said works selected for display in the space must pass through a rigorous selection process.
The call for art went out a couple of years ago, she explained. “For the north satellite, we had about four different projects, and we had about 400 submissions,” she said.
A selection committee considered each artist who answered the call and narrowed it down. “The team discusses back and forth, and we finally make a decision,” McPoland said.
Grade ended up getting the vote. “It’s just fascinating work and certainly fits the Northwest theme,” McPoland said.
Engineers help evaluate the structure of the design. There are permits and inspections to pass as well.
“There’s a lot that goes into this,” McPoland said.
She is confident that Grade’s piece is an ideal fit for the new satellite at the airport. “It’s a unique concept, and it spoke to me a lot,” she said. “The whole idea of starting from nature, I really love that.”
For more information about Seattle artist John Grade, his art, and his team, visit www.johngrade.com.