John Grade prepares art for Mapes Creek project

As public art project manager Jason Huff and I walk into John Grade’s studio in Rainier Beach, Erik Satie’s classical music fills the room, only to be interrupted by the loud whirring of a woodcutting machine. Grade greets us, and apologizes for needing to finish a project very quickly before he can show us around. As he works, Jason and I marvel at both the studio around us (which is a work of art in itself) and the in-progress untitled piece we came to see. The work is sitting in four pieces, each five feet or taller, creating large pod shaped structures made of metal and wood that fill most of the downstairs space.

The four pieces come together to become a towering 20 foot tall sculpture which will be suspended over the mouth of Mapes Creek, starting in Beer Shiva Park, off Lake Washington in Rainier Beach. Right now, however, only the metal skeleton is fabricated, and Grade and his crew are working on fitting the hundreds of pieces of cedar into an oval shape around the welded iron parts. Grade climbs in and out of the structures, clamping pieces down and drilling other pieces in, while excitingly telling us about the process of creating this giant sculpture.

Grade talks about ensuring that the four pieces fit together seamlessly, the tapering of the wood, the perforations that exist between each separate piece, the complexity of each curve that is being creating out of flat pieces of wood and the opening at the top that will allow rainwater to flow through it. As we suggest that birds may fly in and out of the structure, or that beavers will start living in the creek below, Grade’s eyes light up – “What if the birds start nesting in there? How cool would that be?”

As Grade is known for having a desire for his work to interact with nature, his work seems perfect to crown a new above-ground flow of water, Mapes Creek. This creek, along with Grade’s untitled piece of art, will expand the park-goer’s experience by providing “environmental amenity” and will also support the breeding of Chinook salmon, as the creek will increase their habitat along the Lake Washington shore. The Lower Mapes Creek project is project of Seattle Public Utilities (SPU), and John Grade’s piece is funded by SPU’s 1% for Art funds.

– Annie Holden, public relations specialist. Photos by Jason Huff.