Walking the Walk on the Prairie Line Trail

13 Nov

On Saturday, glowering skies drenched the opening of Temporal Terminus: Marking the Line, an exhibit of temporary art installations sited along the Prairie Line Trail. The deluge did not scare off the large crowd who turned out for a guided tour of the art works starting at Tollefson Plaza, winding down to the Tacoma Art Museum and Thea Foss Waterway, continuing along the esplanade by the Museum of Glass, and back up to the University of Washington-Tacoma. Rain or no rain, it was a great opportunity to see how this half-mile, $5.83 million legacy trail – the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, completed during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency – will link up Tacoma’s major cultural attractions.

The rain started on Friday as the eight teams of artists commissioned to create art for the pedestrian/bike trail project now underway began installing their works. It became an all-out battle of humans vs. nature as the weekend progressed. By the time the tour began on Saturday, well-wishers had girded themselves with umbrellas, raingear and high spirits to view the temporary installations along the trail. Here’s a glimpse of the eight new public art works on view through Nov. 26:

UW-T Campus
Title: Ghost Prairie
Artists: Thoughtbarn  (Lucy Begg & Robert Gay)

Thoughtbarn’s installation speaks to the railroad line’s namesake. Inspired by the mysterious Mima mounds in Thurston County, and the plight of the diminishing prairie, this installation introduces a piece of ‘artificial prairie’ along the rails running through the UW-T campus. It is a playful referral to both the railroad’s history and its new landscape-driven future as a bike and pedestrian path through the city. For its duration the colorful, intriguing object will catch the eye of local pedestrians and drivers. Those most curious can get up close to run their hands along the ‘grasses’, which also glow at night.


UW-T Pedestrian Bridge

Title: Envision
Artists: Jeremy Gregory, Diane Hansen, Ed Kroupa

Gigantic eyes look down on the campus from the pedestrian bridge. Are they benevolent? Visionary? Judging? That depends. The eyes are those of Abraham Lincoln, the visionary whose dream it was to complete a transcontinental rail that would meet the Pacific. Is he overlooking his accomplishment or wondering about this particular route’s demise and our crazy modern lives? Walking over the ped bridge, one experiences a different viewpoint and inspiration for the endurance of vision.


Grassy area by UW-T
Title: Manifest Destiny
Artists: Maria Meneses, Nicholas Nyland, Elise Richman

Manifest Destiny was a phrase that justified the territorial expansion of the United States as if it were a divine sanction. A series of markers reminiscent of the Northern Pacific Railroad signs act as a historical timeline of Tacoma, starting in 1870, three years before Tacoma was designated as the western terminus for the transcontinental railroad. A stepping stone begins the journey and the subsequent signs track the growing population of the city over 140 years at intervals that represent the largest jumps in population.

Dock Street Grassy Area
Title: Zero Down
Artists: Chris Jordan, Chandler O’Leary, Claudia Riedener

From a series of ‘footprints’ that occupy the grassy area, colorful shadows extend.  The images are rendered in temporary paint and continued in chalk, the forms span the grass and onto the concrete morphing into forms human and imagined.  Each brightly colored shadow represents the diversity and complexities of humans’ personalities. Seen here, a ghostly profile that will fade over time.

15th Street Overpass
Title: TACOMABALL
Artists: Kyle Dillehay, Lisa Kinoshita, Oliver Doriss

The curve of this overpass is the inspiration for TACOMABALL, a monumental, temporarily interactive pinball-style game which will come to life during the Prairie Line Trail tour. Gigantic red balls will be bowled down the curve interacting with various obstacles depicting both notorious and beloved local icons. Racing stripes and imagery reminiscent of the game will remain on the ramp (assuming nature cooperates) through the course of the exhibit making every pedestrian a player in the game.

Hood Street
Title: Rogue Rhizomes
Artists: Chris Sharp, Lance Kagey, James Sinding

This section of the Prairie Line Trail is a ragged remnant of an industrial heritage that has witnessed dynamic transformation all around, while remaining itself, virtually unchanged over the last 100 years. The fringes of this space are a competition between structured plantings and wildness trying to reinsert itself into the landscape. This installation explores the rogue elements of organic invasiveness, between city and wildness. Using brightly colored markers and a three-dimensional letterform the eye is drawn from a distance and evoke ideas of giant flora. Organic patterns around the base of each light pole emanate outwards over time making use of positive and negative space and ‘invade’ the surrounding area.

Photo: Holly Senn

Tollefson Plaza
Title: Link
Artists: Bret Lyon, Janet Marcavage, Holly Senn

Link makes visible the connection between the rail lines and highlights how the Prairie Line Trail linked Tacoma to the communities of Tenino, McIntosh, Wetico, Rainier, Yelm, Roy, Hillhurst, Lakeview, and South Tacoma. Floating yellow orbs, iconic of the yellow and black railroad signs will re-enact the stops along the line that connected with these communities.


Photo: Kristin Giordano

Under I-705
Title: Wild Wilderness
Artists:  Jennifer Adams, Kristin Giordano, Kenji Stoll

This work comments on the diminishing open spaces in our world and the impact on animal habitat.  In addition, it calls attention to the wild spaces that exist within our urban midst. Peeking from the interesting, dense vegetation near Tacoma Art Museum, a variety of animals that would be hard pressed to co-exist inhabit this newly created environment. Think: mega fauna.

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5 Responses to “Walking the Walk on the Prairie Line Trail”

  1. Dave Bischof November 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    I love the Arts; it is a major reason we moved downtown. Now, several days after the Prarie Line Trail Walk, we are left withwhat was Art and is now merely pasted garbage on the 15th street overpass which is part of my view. Art and community esthetics should be one in the same. I can hardly believe that the artists intended on defacing the walkway; but there it is….This was a positive event; let’s not tarnish it with defaced public property.

    • Tacoma Arts November 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      Hi Dave,
      The public art works for the Prairie Line Trail are two-week temporary installations. The artists did not deface public property, but after obtaining permission from the City, wheatpasted a small section of the sidewall on the overpass with handsome aerial maps of Tacoma, which heavy wind and rain tugged at Friday night. The artists removed or secured loose ends right before the art walk two days ago, and will be either repasting the paper or removing the remnants left on the wall shortly. As the map paper is on the interior, sidewalk-facing side of the wall, and not exposed to passing cars, we hope this will not inconvenience you for the remainder of the exhibition.

      • Dave Bischof November 14, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

        I agree that originally it was not defacing. The substance of the TacomaBall art exhibit is gone; and these posters are all that remain. As it is now, it is not art at all; I trust the artists might agree. It is unsightly. The posters are on the side of the wall that I and other residents of the Esplanade Condominiums must view daily. I invite you to WALK down 15th and take a look. Must we actually wait two weeks for their removal? I would like not to treat my Thanksgiving guests to this view.
        I am very proud of Tacoma Arts and of our history. I frequently encourage residents and friends to attend local events and feel how downtown is becoming a wonderful urban neighborhood. To be a healthy neighborhood, you need residents who feel good about their surroundings as well as art.

    • Kyle Dillehay November 15, 2011 at 10:02 am #

      Hi Dave,

      The weather played havoc on our plans with the posted maps on the wall, it certainly did not last as long as we had hoped. I will go by tomorrow to clean it up. “Defacing” was certainly not part of the plan.

      • Dave Bischof November 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

        Thanks Kyle ! I know that it was all good on the day of the walk; no problems there. Yesterday was cold; and yet you came out and made great progress! Today is wet and cold; too nasty for anyone. Perhaps the rain will loosen up what remains. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you finish the clean up. If nothing else; I can provide a hot cup and warm respite if I know when your’re working.

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