Tuesday, July 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Know your public art: Fern Hill’s magical portal

Motorists and pedestrians traveling along South 84th street might happen to notice a quirky construction by the side of the road as they pass the play field of Fern Hill School. There, at the corner of South 84th and Park streets, stands “Chicken Fun Sway,” a tall hoop made of metal pipe that is equipped with giant chicken feet. A chain curtain fills the space between the giant chicken legs. Under the arch there is a set of tubular chimes that play their music in the wind. Atop the arch is a mother hen with her baby chicks cut from thick sheet metal. Metal eggs decorate the arch itself.

“Chicken Fun Sway” is the brain child of the Tacoma-based husband and wife team of Chris Wooten and Vladimir Shakov. It was one of 15 magical portals that were created in 2004 as part of the Red Door Project, which was organized and curated by Lynn Di Nino, the one-woman arts dynamo responsible for many lively events in the cultural life of our city of destiny.

Playing with the feng shui notion that a red door is conducive to good fortune, Di Nino worked with Tacoma Neighborhoods Together to have the red doors placed in Tacoma's various neighborhoods from June to August of 2004. The doors were symbolic of the forces of commerce and good will flowing into Tacoma.

Although the doors installation was meant to be temporary, “Chicken Fun Sway” was purchased by the Fern Hill Business District so that it could remain permanently in place. Seven years later it is still there channeling playful energy into Fern Hill.

In studying the history of Fern Hill, creators Wooten and Shakov discovered that the area was once dotted with little farms. They wanted to do something that was light-hearted and whimsical and which paid homage to the farms that once characterized Fern Hill. Thus, chickens became the decorative motif of their portal. The “fun sway” of the title is a play on the “feng shui” concept of the overall Red Door Project.

Originally, the chimes in the upper part of the gateway were very ornate. Within months of the initial placement of the sculpture, however, the chimes were stolen. Wooten and Shakov then replaced the original chimes with the more sturdy and secure tubular chimes that give “Chicken Fun Sway” its voice today.

Prior to their participation in the Red Door Project, the team of Wooten and Shakov created “Canned Salmon,” a giant salmon made of recycled aluminum cans that has long been a fixture of the Theater District. They participated in the “Suitcase Sightings Project” and contributed artwork to the first Tall Ships Festival. They have been featured in Gallery Madera, the now defunct Two Vaults Gallery and the “Concreativity” show at Tacoma Public Library's Handforth Gallery. The pair also does private commissions such as making concrete portraits of people's pets. In July the duo will be featured in a show at Old Town's Sandpiper Gallery.

If you happen to be passing along South 84th Street, stop and say hello to “Chicken Fun Sway.” Make a run through its chain curtain and, if the wind is right, listen to the voice of its chimes.