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Visual Edge: The good and bad of the The Plinth Project in Olympia

Yearly sculpture competition at Percival Landing

"Basin of Quenched Fire," mixed media sculpture by Bil Fleming, is one of the better pieces of The Plinth Project at Percival Landing in Olympia.

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The Plinth Project down at Percival Landing in Olympia is a fabulous idea that so far has never quite panned out as I had hoped it would - although hope remains, as witnessed by the finer pieces in this year's crop of 13 sculptures.

When they rebuilt the boardwalk downtown, the Olympia Arts Commission placed permanent outdoor sculpture stands called plinths in spots along the boardwalk, and every year they place sculptures on them and the public is invited to vote on their favorite pieces. The city then purchases the most popular piece for a permanent installation. The fourth sculpture exhibition in the project was recently installed.  Thirteen sculptures were erected, and the winning piece to be purchased and put on permanent display will be chosen by popular vote.

As I said, it is a great idea. But there are two inherent problems. First, sculpture that can withstand weather is often expensive to build and unwieldy to transport, which severely limits the choices; and second, choosing art by popular vote is a terrible idea because you're letting people who like calendar art and prints from Fred Meyers make the final choices. A prominent use of recycled materials by many of this year's artists was a good way to solve the first of these inherent problems. Now let's just hope the voters pick well.

In years past we have seen a preponderance of semi-abstract sculpture in styles popular in the 1920s and '30s, work that is fairly attractive and guaranteed not to offend anyone except critics like me who are offended by timid art. There's been some good stuff and nothing really bad, but mostly bland. This year is no exception.

As mentioned earlier, some of the better pieces this year are made from recycled materials, including Bil Fleming's "Basin of Quenched Fire,"  Don Freas' "Opening (Ring Dance #9)" and Steve Jensen's "Viking Bot." Fleming's piece is a large bowl made out of an old buoy mounted on a tractor cog. It is designed to catch rainwater and slowly let it out. It has a terrific patina and a nice contrast of similar but contrasting shapes.

Freas' work is made out of old scraps of metal. Painted bright red with circular and angular shapes mounted on a tall base that rises at an angle, it is like a combination tree and fair ride, playful and colorful and a nice spark of color for an often overcast waterfront.

"Viking Bot" is a small Viking boat, open sided and balanced with identical bow and stern, created out of what looks like rusted railroad spikes. It is a clever piece and nicely executed.

Other attractive works are Leon White's "The Night Watchman," Kevin Au's "Notches" and Dave Haslett's "Vertebra: ocean Verde."

If I were voting I would have a hard time deciding between "Notches," "Vertebra: ocean Verde" and "Basin of Quenched Fire."

There are supposed to be ballots at Percival Landing, but the day I was there they were all out. You can also pick them up at the Olympia Center front desk at 222 Columbia St. NW. Voting is open through the month of August.

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