Sun King Reigns: Tacoma, Morandi mark sculpture’s return

It took nearly 40 years, but artist Tom Morandi and his Sun King sculpture finally had their day in the sun and respect from Tacoma.

Morandi, Tacoma City Councilmember David Boe, Tacoma Arts Commission Chair Traci Kelly, and a sizeable group of loyal Sun King supporters gathered in a public park at noon on Wednesday to celebrate the abstract sculpture’s return to public display after it was placed in storage for nearly a decade.

Councilmember Boe read lyrics from The Beatles song “Sun King,” while Morandi thanked Tacoma residents who “for the past three years have been bending ears, writing letters and e-mails to City Council, arts administrators, and the press wondering when the Sun King is going to come out of storage and where it is going to be sited.”

The event marked the end of a long journey for a piece of public art that was installed during the late-1970s near the corner of Broadway and South 13th Street, just steps from the Sheraton Hotel. Seven years ago, however, the three-ton, bronze-and-steel Sun King was placed in storage to make way for a new piece of public art as the former Sheraton Hotel was stylishly renovated and renamed Hotel Murano.

In December, the City began to accept bids on a $25,000 project that would take Sun King out of storage and place it in a public park near South 15th Street and Dock Street. A contract was awarded to Puyallup, Wash.-based D & D Construction, and the piece was moved to the public park near Thea Foss Waterway last month.

Morandi and his wife, Suzanne Dechnik, were in Tacoma this week to see the sculpture in its new location, meet with old friends, and take a walking tour of downtown Tacoma.

“Tacoma has changed immensely since those days,” said Morandi, comparing circa-1977 Tacoma, when he installed Sun King, to Tacoma today. “Tacoma has become an art destination.” He described walking the length of Broadway Plaza to Theatre on the Square this week and being delighted to find public art and fountains along the way.

He also explained why his sculpture was named “Sun King” instead of, say, “Cloud King,” “Rain God,” or even “Emperor of the Vast and Unforgivable Gray.”

“I wasn’t being ironic,” Morandi told supporters on Wednesday. “You know better than I — as well as I, anyway — November through April, it’s either raining or about to rain. But every once in a while — a couple of moments maybe, maybe a day or two — the sun comes out and all of a sudden perceptions shift. Things aren’t the same as they were before.” Morandi wanted his sculpture to speak to that change in perception.

It was the perfect metaphor for Tacoma’s love/hate relationship with Sun King. A columnist writing during the 1970s compared the piece to “giant dinosaur droppings.” Letters for and against the public sculpture appeared in local newspapers. In 1977, a Tacoma resident out for his morning walk encountered Morandi and proclaimed the sculpture a “waste of money.” On Wednesday, Morandi, who was gracious about the recent support and attention, cracked, “If that old codger turned up here again, you know what I would say to him? Na-na-na-na-na-na.”

Today, Morandi, 70, lives in Oregon. He is a professor emeritus at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., and created public art for the State of Oregon, University of Portland, City of Aberdeen, Clark County, and Oregon State University.

Standing in front of Sun King on a bright and warm day this week, Morandi told his supporters, “To those of you who made this happen, you have my sincere respect and admiration.”

To read the Tacoma Daily Index’s complete and comprehensive coverage of Tacoma’s Sun King, click on the following links:

Todd Matthews is editor of the Tacoma Daily Index and recipient of an award for Outstanding Achievement in Media from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for his work covering historic preservation in Tacoma and Pierce County. He has earned four awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, including first-place honors for his feature article about Seattle’s bike messengerssecond-place honors for his feature article about whistle-blowers in Washington State; third-place honors for his feature article about the University of Washington’s Innocence Project; and third-place honors for his feature interview with Prison Legal News founder Paul Wright. His work has appeared in All About Jazz, City Arts Tacoma, Earshot Jazz, Homeland Security Today, Jazz Steps, Journal of the San Juans, Lynnwood-Mountlake Terrace Enterprise, Prison Legal News, Rain Taxi, Real Change, Seattle Business Monthly, Seattle magazine, Tablet, Washington CEO, Washington Law & Politics, and Washington Free Press. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in communications. His journalism is collected online at wahmee.com.