If you live or work in downtown Bellevue, you may not be aware you are walking daily through an outdoor art museum. Dozens of sculptures, monuments, statues, and other pieces of public art liven sidewalks, plazas, and parks throughout the city center. We asked City of Bellevue Arts Program Manager Joshua Heim for some of the most interesting aspects of downtown Bellevue’s public art collection.
What is the most painstaking piece of public art to maintain?
The marble statue of Guan Yin. It is a gift from Bellevue’s Sister City, Hualien, Taiwan, expressing its sympathy to the people of Bellevue regarding the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Marble is porous, easily discolors, and the perfect host for moss and lichens in our Northwest environment. If Americans were like Europeans, we would readily accept this as patina. But because Americans like things bright and shiny, we go to extraordinary lengths to maintain that new-car smell.
What piece of public art has the most interesting history or background?
“Root” by Dan Corson. It is a massive root turned on its side to reveal the network that provides support for the tree. The artist was inspired by photos of Japanese farmers standing next to upturned stumps as they prepared land for agricultural production in the early 20th century. Bellevue had a sizable Japanese population pre-internment. The bronze casting of the Root is compiled of 13 different western red cedar root systems. The central trunk and root were harvested in the 1800s. The project was cast in over 250 pieces and weighs over 10,500 pounds.
What are a couple of interesting things about the City’s public art collection that the average person may not know?
While the country is deeply reflective about monuments, of the three public monuments in Bellevue, two are sculptures dedicated to peace. A statue of Mahatma Gandhi stands near the library, while a statue of Guan Yin, protector of peace, stands near Bellevue City Hall. Also, 12 percent of the works in the public art collection were a gift or a donation.
What is the oldest piece of public art in the city’s collection?
“Rock Totem,” a 13-foot-tall bronze sculpture made by James FitzGerald in 1961, and donated to the City of Bellevue in 2006. FitzGerald was among the leading modernist sculptors of the Pacific Northwest. His first public commission, “Portal of the North Pacific,” is a cement relief sculpture above the Mercer Island Floating Bridge tunnel entry to Seattle.
What is the most expensive or valuable piece of public art?
“Current” by Linda Beaumont. The final budget was $530,000. It’s located on the concourse of Bellevue City Hall. Anecdotally, this work is most beloved by the people who work at and visit City Hall. A symbolic river “current” flows through the entire concourse of Bellevue City Hall, and Beaumont captured the movement and life of the river — complete with pools, bubbles, and tributaries in a 4,000-square-foot terrazzo floor.