20 years later, Tacoma public artwork finds exhibit space at Foss Waterway Seaport

A piece of public art that hasn’t been on display for nearly 20 years will soon be unveiled at Foss Waterway Seaport in downtown Tacoma.

In 1996, Chinese-American artist Hai Ying Wu created Shipment To China—an abstract piece of art made of bronze and resembling boxlike urns that sits on railroad tracks cast in Tacoma in 1909—to honor the lives of Chinese laborers who helped build the transcontinental railroad in the United States during the Nineteenth Century. The City-owned piece was originally destined for Tacoma’s Chinese Reconciliation Park, but the evolution of the park’s design and safety concerns made siting at the park impractical, according to City of Tacoma officials.

“The concept of this piece is to recognize the contributions made by Chinese people in America,” wrote Wu in his artist’s statement (see below). ”The ash boxes bring to light their sacrifices hidden under thousands of miles of railroad track where the bones of Chinese workers were once buried. This piece shows the bitterness of the Chinese experience in America during that time, for the railroad built by their efforts was the same transportation used to carry them back to their homeland, also the same transportation [that] carr[ied] them out of Tacoma.”

Wu created Shipment To China as his thesis project while earning a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Washington. He went on to create the Seattle Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Pioneer Square

Now restored and destined to be on display for the first time since the 1990s, Shipment To China will be part of Foss Waterway Seaport’s Rails to Sails exhibit.

Shipment To China will be officially unveiled at 3 p.m. on Sun., Sept. 27, at Foss Waterway Seaport, located at 705 Dock St., in downtown Tacoma. The unveiling ceremony will include a lecture by exhibit curator Bud Thompson.

Similarly, last year the City of Tacoma sited Tom Morandi’s three-ton, bronze and steel Sun King sculpture in a public park along Thea Foss Waterway after it sat in storage for nearly a decade (see “Top Stories 2014: #4 — Sun King Reigns,” Tacoma Daily Index, Dec. 24, 2014). City officials held a public unveiling ceremony for the artwork in June of 2014.

More information is available online at fosswaterwayseaport.org and cityoftacoma.org/arts.