Thursday, June 29, 2017 This Week's Paper

Arts & Entertainment: Know Your Public Art

// Brain and Vertical Stone

Wayfarers and passersby along the 1100 block of Tacoma’s Broadway might chance to meet a pair of stony characters – one short and stout, the other tall and lean. They have been there on the sidewalk since 1993: two big chunks of basalt stone that have been dubbed “Brain and Vertical Stone.”

The sculpture is the work of local artist Doug Granum. They were part of a grand commission to mark the Theater District with public art in conjunction with the opening of Theatre on the Square in one of the city’s perennial attempts at revitalization.

The stones along Broadway are archetypal opposites: tall/short, thin/fat, round/angled. They could appear in a children’s book to illustrate those simple concepts. The so-called “brain” is a rounded, pitted boulder whose raised areas were smoothed out by the sculptor’s tools. Its surface of polished portions interspersed with rough cavities invites the hand to touch. The standing stone (Granum’s parents hail from the Hebrides, where standing stones are a reminder of the distant past) has a convex curve in the side adjacent to the “brain” stone. The curve echoes the shape of the “brain” and gives the two a visual harmony despite their otherwise opposing traits.

The 1993 commission began when the Theater District wanted street banners to mark its territory. The project snowballed into a lavish production of 96 separate pieces of art consisting of 31 steel banners, 20 bronze masks and six installations of stone sculptures. All of it was done by Granum who, in one fell swoop, became Tacoma’s most prolific (if not overrepresented) public artist.

A true renaissance man, Granum was a creative writing major at the University of Washington. In the early 1970s he fell into art when he took private sculpture lessons. He has gone on to master a variety of media: stone, bronze, steel, glass and paint. In each medium he has produced an astonishing amount of work. Further, each medium that Granum employs seems to inspire its own unique style. His paintings are very different from his stonework and his stonework is entirely different from his metalwork. One would never guess that the person responsible for all the rustic stone installations in the downtown core is the same individual who did the bronze masks bolted to the flanks of the various buildings. The colorful and geometric “Locomotive Monument” (a 1988 sculpture along ‘A’ Street) is entirely different from either the masks or the rustic stones.

The basalt pillars and boulders for the Theater District sculptures came from an expansive ranch in Eastern Washington. Granum selected stones that have been shaped by the wind and marked by lichens. His addition is sometimes quite minimal; a bit of polishing here, a little etching there and the thing is good to go. Others, such at the “Writing Stone,” are far more intricately worked.

Granum has his critics. It could be argued that the city is oversaturated with too much Granum; that the gigantic Theater District commission should have been doled out to provide more artistic variety and to give other artists a chance to have a share of the very finite public space. On the other hand, much of Granum’s public work had proved to be remarkably durable and timeless. Perhaps we are fortunate to have been able to take advantage of such an artistic dynamo here in our midst.

For further information on Granum visit his website at There is a link to a video that shows him in the process of selecting stones for his sculptures.