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Tacoma, Turkish baths and innovation, oh my!

"Projecting Drop" hearkens the past and hails the future

The razzle dazzle to a once fairly ergo-tastic shortcut. Photo by Kristin Kendle

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On the stairs on 12th Street in downtown Tacoma leading from Pacific Avenue up to Commerce Street, there is a new piece of large-scale public art called Projecting Drop, which was part of a larger renovation of the area next to the Pacific Plaza building. Projecting Drop was designed by Canadian artist Jill Anholt, and is now the razzle-dazzle to a once fairly crap-tastic shortcut in downtown.

Jill Anholt came to this project after a public call to artists caught her attention, and she was elected by a jury. She has a background in drawing, sculpture and architecture and attended both the Ottawa School of Art and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada. Anholt found her passion in public art, and works with many media depending on the site, including stainless steel, concrete, wood, different types of glass, lenses and more. She works in tandem with a project designer, as well as local companies - for this one, a local tile company played an important role.

"I love the scale of public artwork and its permanence," says Anholt. "I also really enjoy making a work that has the potential to help shape an identity for a place or community. I find that working in the public realm pushes my creativity to the utmost in order to stay true to my artistic vision, while somehow still figuring out how to satisfy the really tough constraints and pragmatics required."

Now as you huff and puff up the stairs and wonder why Tacoma has to have so many hills, there is an intriguing highlight to your climb - Projecting Drop, a 25-foot wall with a rippling surface covered in hexagonal tiles that appear to cascade down the wall and onto the sidewalk. The ripples are an effect created with glass-reinforced concrete underneath the tiles. Coming out of the wall is a single drop - and a quote about Tacoma is set into the tiles on the sidewalk, reading, "From amidst a somber forest of firs, a city has arisen as if by a stroke of an enchanter wand. Like a new Venice, Tacoma looks forth over the glassy waters and prepares to handle the commerce of the world." The quote is from an 1891 edition of the Tacoma Ledger.

As you walk on the plaza, lights shine a part of this quote onto a wall. That's right - Projecting Drop knows when you're there. It's watching you.
"I included (the quote) because to me the words seemed somehow timeless and thus able to help weave the past and present together," says Anholt. "The quote is also a kind of call to action that speaks to the citizens of Tacoma to participate in the transformation of the city."

While Tacoma has become a veritable hotbed of public art, Projecting Drop has something unique to offer. There was a Turkish bath underneath this site. Yeah, that's right. A Turkish bath. Who knew? I certainly didn't. My vision of Old Tacoma was one filled with smelly, sweaty loggers and maybe some foul-mouthed macho sailors horking chewing tobacco at pioneer girls gone wild. But I suppose even working dudes might like a luxuriant bath here and there. Projecting Drop serves both as piece of public art and as a way to mark this interesting, but largely unknown historical site.

"I became completely intrigued about its history and that of the city of Tacoma," says Anholt. "I was also very interested in the renaissance of the Pacific Plaza building itself and its aspirations as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum building, which is truly a remarkable achievement."

As you walk by this impressive piece of public art, you may just simply walk by. You may not think about Turkish baths, modern environmental innovation or tobacco-horking sailors (as maybe no one should), but all of these elements combine in Projecting Drop.

"I had no idea how I was going to weave these two times and two distinct stories together," Anholt says, "but I did know that I wanted to do that in some way."

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Comments for "Tacoma, Turkish baths and innovation, oh my!" (1)

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taco said on Dec. 08, 2010 at 1:16pm

That thing blows. Why wasn't a Tacoma artist contracted for this job?!

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