The Fussy Eye: Cooper Union

Mural-gazing at the courthouse.

Maybe you robbed a bank. Or maybe you're on jury duty. Either way, past the courthouse metal detectors, local history begins in the elevator rotunda, circles overhead, and leads you back into the bowels of the 1916 building. Few stop to inspect the historical mural From these Hills, from these Waters by Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh?) artist Douglas Cooper. Before its 2005 installation, concurrent with a building renovation, did the lawyers and judges ever pause to consider how they came to be in these halls of justice? Or the perps and cops? As we see in the mural, first came the Denny party, then the logging and fishing, the digging of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and the leveling of the Regrade. Looming like Paul Bunyan over the panorama are Hiram Chittenden, Reginald H. Thomson, and other city shapers—also including Kurt Cobain and Tom Hanks (yes, for Sleepless in Seattle). We also glimpse the origins of Boeing and the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. There's Safeco Field and Jimi Hendrix, too! Cows and climbers! Wobblies and WTO protesters! And the whole scrambled pageant leads up to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because, well, because we decided in 1986 to rename the county—established in 1852—after the civil-rights leader. With the county as patron, there's something droll about this frankly didactic project, this ahistorical jumble of events and faces. (Cooper even inserts himself, above, as an onlooker.) Everything is happening at once; history becomes simultaneous, unlike a timeline or a textbook progression. Not the way it's taught, but maybe how it's forgotten.

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