Work has begun on a 19,200-square-foot mural on the 7 Seas Brewery building along Jefferson Avenue in downtown Tacoma. Funded by a Heritage Capital Projects Fund Grant awarded to the city by the Washington State Heritage Society, the mural, “Working Forward, Weaving Anew,” will be one of five artworks to be on display along the Prairie Line Trail.
Headed up by artists Esteban Camacho Steffensen and Jessilyn Brinkerhoff, “Working Forward, Weaving Anew’s” theme revolves around the history of production in Tacoma through images of wood and weaving. “Their design includes a Puyallup basket weaver, clearcutting, furniture making, and a person creating a contemporary artwork,” said Rebecca Solverson, public art specialist for the City of Tacoma. “The team has worked closely with representatives from the Puyallup Tribe to ensure the cultural imagery in their artwork is respectful and accurate.”
Because of the Native American subject matter, the team is working with 11 Native artists to help paint the mural. “We are always looking for opportunities to reach out to communities that are underrepresented in our programs through targeted engagement, training, etc.,” said Solverson. “We feel there is a great opportunity to do that here, and also honor the Native stories that are being told through this artwork.”
The mural tells a story that moves chronologically from left to right. “The artistic design is built around a metaphor of indigenous weaving,” said Steffensen and Brinkerhoff, “which winds first through natural landscapes, then deforestation, industry, and finally cultural rebirth.” The mural begins with a life-sized grand cedar tree that stretches to the top of the building. At the base of the tree is a Puyallup woman weaving a basket. “The stalks of the cedar root basket wind from the left to the right as well,” said the head artists. “They become ribbon-like threads, symbols of humankind’s interrelationship with nature, which was more sustainable when practiced by the Puyallup, who only took and used what was necessary for their people.”
As the threads move to the right they become wooden planks, a dynamic change in mankind’s relationship with nature as immigrants from Asia and Europe arrive. “These graphic elements show the conflicts inherent in this clash of civilizations and the loss of Native culture,” said Steffensen and Brinkerhoff. “The basket threads transition us to the destruction of the forests, clear cuts and severed trees that represent not only a changing landscape, but the destruction of Puyallup culture and Native lands. The ripped treaty floating away with the flying birds and the carved fist in the tree are symbols for these tragedies as well.”
Aspects of European design become prevalent in the mural as it moves further right, and ends with a girl weaving a work in progress. “[The girl] represents the weaving of our future, which acknowledges the tragic loss of Native culture, and immigrant sufferings, as they transform into a new integrated story of working together to weave civilization anew,” said the artists. “Her art is a work in progress inspired by a Native design which represents friendship and unity. Above, in the background of this historical human drama, stands the mountain, watching over the forests and people below, while off to the right, the train tracks run into the future.”
With the days getting longer and the weather clearing up, Steffensen and Brinkerhoff have the opportunity to devote ample time to a project that has been five years in the making. “The two lead artists are working six days a week,” said Solverson. “The all-Native group of assistants are working on various days, typically with three people working at a time on either Sundays or Thursdays.”
Weather permitting, the “Working Forward, Weaving Anew” mural is scheduled to be completed by the end of June of this year.