Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Know You Public Art: ‘Water Forest’ takes a tumble… again

Well Tacoma, maybe we just can't have nice things...

Earlier this month, vandals toppled one of the 20 bronze and Plexiglas pillars that comprise the fountain-sculpture called "Water Forest" that graces the plaza between the Thea Foss Waterway and the entry to the Museum of Glass (MOG). So ends a good run of four trouble-free years in the 11-year span of Water Forest's very troubled existence.

The work was originally installed in 2002 to coincide with the grand opening of MOG. Renowned Rhode Island artist Howard Ben Tre' designed the work (at a cost of $208,000) as a conceptual link between MOG and the nearby waterway. The design was 20 pillars that were half bronze and half glass arranged in circles around a round platform. Water would flow in perpetuity down the surface of these proud tubes. At night they would glow green (like irradiated glass rods of a nuclear reactor, perhaps).

Shortly after installation, however, the delicate nature of the art was brought home when a boy – a bumpkin – bumped into it while “rough housing” and damaged it. The work was promptly removed from the site and the pieces trundled off to storage where they were to reside for the next seven long years while the minds of MOG and sundry city officials could determine whether the work could be re-engineered and salvaged.

In June of 2009 (and $174,000 later), "Water forest" was restored. Instead of fragile glass, the clear portions of the towers were made of safer Plexiglas. The towers were bolted firmly in place and rods were installed inside each tube to provide additional strength. The tubes are still lit with the atomic green glow at night. It seems more than a little ironic that this icon in front of the Museum of Glass has no glass left in it.

The sculpture has been functioning flawlessly since its 2009 reintroduction to the public. It has been able to become a beloved piece of civic furniture; until early this month that is. That is when some troglodyte that crawled out of the shadows wrecked a deliberate act of vandalism upon the public art. One of the 20 towers was pushed over - this time not by accident but as a deliberate act. “It took a lot of effort,” noted Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride. “They had to work really hard to push that over.”

The city acted swiftly. The broken tower was removed and the water line that fed it was shut off. The remaining 19 towers are still working fine. The fate of the art now remains uncertain. Is the damage to be repaired yet again? What will be the bill this time? Or is the sculpture to stay damaged but working for the next seven years, greeting visitors to the city like a big smile with one tooth missing?