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PA:ID Featured Artist: Chandler O’Leary

7 Jun

Chandler O’Leary

By Hannah Franke, City of Tacoma Arts Intern

Chandler O’Leary was born west of the Wall Drug in South Dakota, however, she calls Massachusetts home.  Chandler grew up in a military family and in many ways, “home” she says, “is both everywhere and nowhere for me—a theme that crops up regularly in my work.”  She later moved to attend Rhode Island School of Design where she received her BFA in Illustration. Chandler even lived in Rome for a year where she honed her skills as an artist. She experiments in many mediums including artist books, illustration, graphic design, textiles, letterpress, printing, and drawing. Her books and prints are collected by many—especially her collaborative broadside series, the Dead Feminists, which she produces with letterpress artist Jessica Springand exhibited internationally.  She currently resides in Tacoma and was a 2009-10 recipient of the Tacoma Arts Commission’s Tacoma Artists Initiative Program funding.

Chandler is one of 23 participants in the Tacoma Arts Commission’s Public Art: In Depth (PA:ID) program, training professional Tacoma artists in how to transfer skills from their studio practice to the public art realm . She was recently selected to create a public art piece for the soon-to-be-remodeled Old Town Dock.

To learn more about Chandler’s latest work, you can follow her blog at

A view of Old Town Hall by Chandler O’Leary.

Q & A with Chandler O’Leary

What interests you about public art?

 I’m very interested in the stories and layered connotations evoked by particular places. Because I do a lot of traveling, and was previously nomadic in my personal life, a strong sense of place is a continuing undercurrent of my work. Public art is a wonderful medium for taking this interest to a deeper level and a larger context.

What are your plans for your public art project at Old Town Dock, and what do you wish for your art to accomplish there?

 I’m developing a design for a series of intimate, illustrated pieces that draw the viewer into a playful search around the Old Town Dock space. Each piece is a small vignette—a window into the details of everyday life and work in and around the Dock, throughout history and into the current day. These scenes—some hidden, some in plain sight—give a sense of the importance of Old Town Dock, and its central place in the lives of thousands of Tacomans. The search for each piece draws viewers into the space, and invites them to explore the layers of history, geography and visual interest inherent to the place.

What are some of the stories or history revolving around the dock area that intrigue you?

 I’m interested in the sheer number of different things that occur and have occurred on or near the Old Town Dock site over the years. The Dock has been host and witness to a wide variety of industries, neighborhood growth, events, historic architecture, celebrations, tragedies, and stories—all on one small patch of land. It’s this diverse wealth of stories that I’d like to share with the viewer, as well.

Will your project create different visual experiences for individuals on the dock as opposed to individuals approaching the dock from water level, and if so, what is your aim in using alternate perspective points?

The point of view of the visitor is a major component of my artwork for Old Town Dock. Because there will be many small images, there is an opportunity to place the pieces in a variety of locations, heights, angles and vantage points. I want to encourage viewers to go searching for these images, so some will be more readily visible than others. Some will be at a child’s eye level; others will be up high. Some will be visible from a distance—still others might be a pleasant surprise, close at hand. And at least one will be visible only from the water (as in a boat or kayak, etc.). The result, I hope, will encourage visitors to take advantage of all the Dock’s features, and to develop a sense of curiosity and play within the space. Continue reading

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