A major patron of public art in recent years has been Sound Transit. Responsible for Tacoma’s Link light rail line and currently involved in building the commuter rail system that will stitch Puget Sound cities together, Sound Transit includes public art work in each of its construction projects.
Through its STart Public Art Program, the agency commissions regional artists to create site-specific works. Care is given to the character and the cultural history of each location.
Art is used to make every station of the transit system a distinctive and individual spot. Inviting artwork makes commuters feel welcome to the facilities and gives a unique marker to each station, thus aiding riders by making it easier to recognize stops along the transit network.
The five stations of the Tacoma Link line are each equipped with artwork that makes reference to the part of town in which it is located. The art at the line’s South 25th Street Station (next the Elephant Car Wash) was made by Tacoma native Nate Slater in 2003.
With a boat building background and having grown up on the shores of Commencement Bay, Slater came up with the idea of building six gigantic fishing lures that are mounted on poles. Located just a few blocks from Thea Foss Waterway, the artwork commemorates the many fishing lure manufacturing companies that once thrived in Tacoma.
Made to be visually interesting to fish, colorful and unusually shaped lures are also objects of fascination to anyone who has spent much time in tackle shops, sporting goods stores or the fishing gear aisle of any department store. Slater’s giant, eye-catching lures are made of welded aluminum.
The angular fish forms are uniform in size and shape, but each is painted differently and each has its own style of tail fin. The round eyeholes are marked with painted circles. Metal hoops dangle from the tip of each. Mounted on steel posts of varying heights, the rocket-like lures are meant to move in the wind – a kinetic element of the work. Possibly, however, the sculptures are in need of some grease since they now seem stiff even in a brisk spring breeze.
The device of making enlarged versions of ordinary and utilitarian objects was first used by pop artists like Claes Oldenburg, whose gigantic clothespin in Philadelphia presented surprising, disorienting mockery of public monuments when built in 1976.
Since that time, however, the enlargement of smaller objects has become a commonplace of our cultural experience. Now works like Slater’s enlarged fishing lures seem whimsical and decorative like big, lovable whirly-gigs. In conjunction with the neon pink elephants of the adjacent car wash, the work makes Tacoma Link’s South 25th Street Station colorful and inviting indeed.
For more information on Sound Transit’s STart public art program visit www.soundtransit.org/Rider-Community/Public-art.xml.