Followup: Artist explains newly installed Fire Station 37 sculpture

If you saw our “tour new Fire Station 37” story in the first few hours after we published it, you haven’t seen the postscript – one day after our tour, artist Pete Beeman – commissioned three years ago to create a sculpture for the site, under the city’s 1% for Art program – installed his work outside the station, along 35th SW. (Thanks yet again to Michael Oxman for sending a photo last night – we went back for our own a little while ago.) There’s little information about the sculpture online, so we e-mailed Beeman today to ask about its name, its inspiration, and even – as asked by a commenter – whether it has moving parts. He replied:

It is called “Lifter.” It has a crank at the bottom, which raises and lowers the polished arms.

There are a few concrete references to fire fighting equipment in the piece. The tower borrows its form from the “jaws of life” tool FFs use to open crunched car doors; the 5-sided nut shape around each shaft is borrowed from the 5-sided nut on fire hydrants.

Below is something I wrote about it when I was proposing the project. It is an abstract project, and I hope that people will bring their own visual vocabulary to it, project their own references onto it, but below are a few of the images that it kicks up for me.

“At times the sculpture looks a bit like a tree or an umbrella, metaphors for the sheltering, protective role the Fire Fighters play in a community. Other times it seems to be a bird form, a metaphor for the rising soaring hope that Fire Fighters provide a community in a crisis, whether it is helping maintain fire and health safety in daily life, or dealing with health and fire crises. It is heavy and mechanical, like much of the equipment standard to fire fighting, the moving tubes similar to a (unreachable) ladder at one point in their cycle. Finally, the image of the phoenix rising from the ashes of a fire comes to mind in its rising form, as its tubes are cranked all the way up. This is a perfect image or metaphor for the firefighters work, it is their work that breaks the crisis and allows people to recover, to move on.”

Closer look:

You can see more of Pete Beeman’s work here.

45 Replies to "Followup: Artist explains newly installed Fire Station 37 sculpture"

  • LovingWS August 25, 2010 (1:36 pm)

    I though it was an arrow’s end

  • KBear August 25, 2010 (1:42 pm)

    It does sort of look like a giant dart that just missed the brand new fire station. I like it, though.

  • Baba August 25, 2010 (1:50 pm)

    Only in America this can be considered ART!

  • Dale August 25, 2010 (2:06 pm)

    Ceremonial headgear or maybe a clothes line. I like it too.

  • Que August 25, 2010 (2:30 pm)

    It looks like a torch lily to me. Seems apropos. :-)

  • Baba August 25, 2010 (2:34 pm)

    It looks like the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!

  • AJ August 25, 2010 (2:36 pm)

    I thought it was going to look like a fish skeleton, so I’m pleasantly surprised. Both by what it actually looks like and the artists explanation.
    Great job and thanks!

  • sam August 25, 2010 (2:45 pm)

    I like it- I like the phoenix analogy too.

  • Barry August 25, 2010 (2:58 pm)

    What is it really come on right meow

  • Steph in WS August 25, 2010 (3:13 pm)

    I love art and I love artists, don’t get me wrong but this? Why does any art for a public place have to be a very loose metaphor? Why can’t it be a little more like a fire hydrant or a fireman or something? I am just sick of extreme metaphoric art when the county is paying money for it.

  • cjboffoli August 25, 2010 (3:26 pm)

    Who says that government-financed art has to be bland and literal? I’d say that most of the art that falls under that category is bad art. Personally, I’d rather have public art that maybe confuses people, that inspires strong feelings whether they love it or hate it, that pushes people out of their comfort zone and makes them think or even potentially disturbs them. In a society where just about everything conforms to our expectations and aims to gratify us instantly, we don’t need art that endeavors to be inoffensive and popular. I’d rather leave it completely in the hands of the artist to decide what he or she wants to say.

  • Baba August 25, 2010 (3:30 pm)

    WSB, since we, the tax payers , payed for this “thing”. Can you please investigate how much did this “thing” cost us?

  • Baba August 25, 2010 (3:57 pm)

    cjboffoli, I totally agree with you, we live in the society nowadays when everything has to be politically correct to confuse people, otherwise a fire hydrant or a firemans stature in front of the fire station might hurt too many peoples feelings…
    What if somebody tried to be a fireman and was not excepted…?
    What if somobody did run over the fire hydrant in the past, and seeing it on the way home as a stature will put him/her in a bad mood…?
    I agree, we need to keep our public art as obscure as possible…

  • jimh August 25, 2010 (4:10 pm)

    Wonder how many teacher salaries the cost of this would of covered….One day, maybe the Sheep will learn…

  • sam August 25, 2010 (4:23 pm)

    checking out the artist’s website (and there are some really great pieces there), it looks incredibly similar to something in Lake Oswego, so I guess I’m a little less excited.

  • enviromaven August 25, 2010 (4:33 pm)

    Nicely put, cjboffoli! Representational art requires very little of us. Abstract art is much more thought-provoking and personal. BTW, I watched the appendages of the art installation in question being raised and lowered yesterday – very cool!! I also really liked the artist’s statement re: firefighters and the importance of their work.

  • Jordan August 25, 2010 (4:40 pm)

    I like it and appreciate the explanation. Will have to go up and take a look at it this weekend in person. I feel a bit sorry for the drab existence of those who just don’t get art. I would hate to live in a world where art didn’t exist or was relegated to the living room.

    Actually I thought it looked like a wheat stock, but then what do I know… :o)

  • sunshine August 25, 2010 (4:45 pm)

    This sculpture reminds me a lot of the Burke Brise Soleil by Colatrava that graces the Milwaukee Art Museum.

    It opens and closes every day and is breathtakingly beautiful!

  • OP August 25, 2010 (4:50 pm)

    If you believe, as I do, that art should be completely in the hands of the artist, then support of government-financed art is a near-absolute contradiction that’s incompatible with that ideal.

  • mark August 25, 2010 (4:58 pm)

    Metaphor shmetaphor. This thing fails as public art, and the guy who stole the totem pole would do us all a big favor by hijacking this thing, too. Oh, and if cjboffoli is not too busy writing speeches about public art, he should ask the guys in the firehouse what they think about this thing. Now THAT would be interesting.

  • cjboffoli August 25, 2010 (5:16 pm)

    OP: The source of funding, whether it is government, corporations, rich patrons, or even the Pope has always been a bit of a paradox, at its worst spawning things like the battles over the depictions in the Sistene Chapel or something like the NEA v. Mapplethorpe situation in the early 90’s. Then again, artists manage to prevail. WPA programs produced some wonderful art during the Depression. I’m not completely opposed to government funding art if it can provide a platform for citizens to jump beyond themselves, or inspire us to be protagonists in our own lives. Government does far worse things with our tax money than fund art.

    • WSB August 25, 2010 (5:29 pm)

      If anyone cares to read it, that’s why I linked the informational page about the 1% for Art Ordinance toward the end of the story. If you disagree with it, it’s legislation and certainly could be overturned by a City Council vote. We learned during the recent public meetings for the West Seattle Reservoir Park Design that while 1% of the project cost of something like this is allotted to the art fund that does NOT necessarily mean (a) a certain project will get an artwork or (b) that if they do, it will be worth the equivalent of 1 percent of that project’s cost. I have not yet found the $ amount for which this was commissioned.

  • Divacreativa August 25, 2010 (5:24 pm)

    To care enough to put a sculpture in front of a fire station to honor fire fighters makes me think our civilization is not entirely bankrupt afterall. Give it a chance–watch it for awhile in action. It could grow on you. Just might grow on you.

  • KRM August 25, 2010 (5:35 pm)

    This is a perfect example of lack of accountability regarding use of our tax dollars. God bless artists who do what they do and Pete Beeman’s efforts on this piece but come on.
    The 1% for art program may not sound like much but its 1% here and 1% there for this kind of stuff?
    As others have commented, I wonder how many school books or school equipment could have been purchased with ‘only’ 1%.

    This example is the reason I usually vote NO on any funding projects until I see them spend what they DO have responsibly.

  • Diane August 25, 2010 (5:45 pm)

    very cool; drove by this morning; thought wow, then what is it? great to see explanation already; yay westseattleblog

  • Julie August 25, 2010 (6:53 pm)

    I like it! I don’t see a problem with spending 1% on public art that we all enjoy. Considering the federal government spends about 54% of federal tax dollars on the military yes the government does find worse ways to spend our money.

  • enviromaven August 25, 2010 (7:27 pm)

    Big thanks, as always, go to WS blog. It’s great to get the stories behind the story: artist statement, local legislation re: arts funding, and an accessible forum in which to discuss them. You are the best!

  • Glenda August 25, 2010 (7:39 pm)

    AAAAHHHHH! This reaction is totally due to election season, but I swear if I hear ONE more person talk about “my such and such taxes” as an excuse for complaining about anything and everything government tries to do that they don’t agree with . . . well I can’t put it on WSB.

    Baba and ilk – how about thinking about your precious taxes (which I also pay but you don’t hear me crowing about it all the time) as your yearly membership dues for the country club we all live in called America? Is that a better way to think about it? Government should be accountable, yes, but stop complaining about every project you don’t agree with. My taxes pay for plenty of things I don’t like either. It’s life.

  • Alkira August 25, 2010 (8:10 pm)

    I’m glad that it has red and has rays. It reminds of the typical firefighter personality – warm, helpful, connected to the community.

  • marty August 25, 2010 (9:25 pm)

    You can’t fool me!! I know a call phone tower when I see one!!!!!

  • sun*e August 25, 2010 (11:32 pm)

    Okay… I’m obviously no artist nor do I have an eye for it. With that said, does anyone else think that this sculpture looks like a giant toothbrush? Maybe it will “brush” out fires! ; )

  • MargL August 25, 2010 (11:44 pm)

    At first glance I thought it looked kind of like the neck and head of a guitar – but it’s the wrong place for a tribute to Jimi Hendrix.

    I like the Phoenix idea better.

    Is it interactive art? Will folks be able to turn the crank or will it be more like the Hammering Man, slowly going up and down…

  • miws August 26, 2010 (5:58 am)

    sun*e, my first thought, with the more distant shot, was that it looked sort of like a hairbrush.


    After seeing the close-up yesterday, it kind of reminded me of a toothbrush too! :lol:



  • pam August 26, 2010 (7:29 am)

    I look at this thing while waiting at the light at 35th and Holden, I suppose almost every day now — I live very nearby. And my mind is pretty open about public art, art of all kinds, really, I’m not a traditionalist. And it amused me to watch the guy crank the handle while he was testing it yesterday. And I like that the city spends money on art. I think it’s important.

    But I *really* don’t like this piece. Commenter Mark above said “metaphor schmetaphor” and I’m with him — it would be interesting to hear from the firefighters. And the neighbors, I’m one.

    I’m not angry, nor do I need an explanation of budgets and process. I get it. But I like the big plastic cow on the roof of the corner market way better than I like this thing, and that kind of bums me out.

  • Kayleigh August 26, 2010 (8:42 am)

    Well, dang. All public art should please me, personally, because I paid for it with *my* money, which could go to more important things, like $6 a pound organic fair-trade sweet potatoes at PCC or yoga classes with my dog! Why didn’t they check with me before they built it?
    It’s probably Obama’s fault.

  • KBear August 26, 2010 (8:56 am)

    “Why can’t it be a little more like a fire hydrant or a fireman or something?”
    Because the law says 1% for ART, not 1% for kitschy crap. Art is not a waste of tax dollars, and public art projects provide legitimate jobs for people, just as public building projects do.

  • Trisket August 26, 2010 (3:35 pm)

    No worries, that tree will hide it from the street in no time.

    And the 1% for art charged to these public works projects is A LOT OF MONEY. Just the downtown streetcar project alone came in at over $50M. That’s over a half-million dollars for the art pot..dollars that should be used for the really important city services and progams which are getting cutback.

  • Baba August 26, 2010 (4:18 pm)

    WSB, I’m sorry to be repetitious, but can you please investigate for me and “my ilk”, the $ amount for which this “thing” was commissioned?
    Thank you.

  • Fritz August 27, 2010 (8:50 am)

    Kinda looks like a giant lobster tail to me. Of course I am pretty hungry right now…

  • BlaBla August 27, 2010 (12:49 pm)

    Baba – Are you commissioning WSB to do investigative work for you? Shouldn’t you be paying for that?

  • Teresa R August 27, 2010 (1:56 pm)

    I know that the artist spent time with the Firefighters at Station 37 while designing this piece, and their tools as well as the mission of the Seattle Fire Department inspired it. A firefighter from FS 37 was on the selection panel for the project artist. During the process, Pete Beeman modified the design as a result of the interaction with the FF’s. Most artists’ work has a family resemblance to their other work, so what? That is called having a ‘voice’. What is served by having a bronze replica of a fire hydrant or a firefighter when you can see the real thing everyday? Been there done that, and the real thing usually is much more impressive. I’d rather my public art provoke some thought.

  • Baba August 27, 2010 (4:27 pm)

    Hey, BlaBla, I was very polite about it. Plus, by calling the adds on the right I think I am partially “paying for that”
    And WSB was not against investigating it either.
    Please see aug 25 5:29pm comment.

  • sun*e August 28, 2010 (1:13 pm)

    @miws – Maybe it’s a reminder to the firemen to have good hygiene. ;)

  • OP August 28, 2010 (8:42 pm)

    Government does far worse things with our tax money than fund art.

    Agreed. Yet gov’t inclusion into civil liberties cannot be—no matter how hard one tries—avoided or dismissed. Gov’t inserting itself into such decisions as to what it funds or doesn’t fund antithetical to the principles on which our country was founded. If gov’t wishes to fund such projects, then it should have (ideally) zero say in what is produced, leaving taste and discretion up to the artist(s).

  • Joe August 31, 2010 (5:59 pm)

    Public art is a great idea and 1% isn’t unreasonable. Artists need some public support, but I’m a little saddened that the current selection process seems to weed out the interesting and creative in deference to works that are inoffensive but say little. Good art doesn’t require an explanation.

Sorry, comment time is over.