Water—the Essence of Life

Sure, SAM had its big show “S’abadeb—The Gifts,” but some of that same Salish iconography shows up elsewhere in town, and for free. It took me a while to recall where, during a past West Seattle bike ride, I’d seen some of the same faces, birds, and fish, but eventually I zeroed in on Water—the Essence of Life. Installed in 1998 as cladding on a humble King County pump house, the tiles were designed by Vancouver, B.C. artist Susan Point, a member of the Musqueam First Nation. The facility’s metal gate also employs indigenous motifs—orcas and gape-mouthed figures staring at passers-by on the trail to Alki. It’s a somewhat incongruous setting for the artwork, sited near the industrial mouth of the Duwamish, which was once a fertile, meandering river for foraging and fishing. Today, it’s mostly industrial, and Point’s menagerie is sadly removed from the water, located on the west side of the avenue, facing east. Dredging and other changes to the landscape during the last 150 years have totally reconfigured Elliott Bay. Coal heaps and scrap metal are piled along the shore, which leaves Point’s totems sadly landlocked, looking in vain for the salty harbor that remains forever out of view. BRIAN MILLER

Starts: Dec. 14. Daily, 2008

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