Ceremony Sept. 18 for Tollefson Plaza native sculpture

The City of Tacoma, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and Tacoma Art Museum is inviting the public to witness the unveiling...

The City of Tacoma, Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and Tacoma Art Museum is inviting the public to witness the unveiling and blessing ceremony of a 22-foot-tall, wood-carved welcome figure that will soon be installed in Tollefson Plaza in downtown Tacoma. The event is scheduled for Sat., Sept. 18 from 10 a.m. to noon. Tollefson Plaza is located at South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue. According to an announcement posted on the TacomaArt listserv, the figure was carved by Puyallup native artist Shaun Peterson (Qwalsius) and depicts a native female wearing a traditional woven cedar hat and white dress with a Thunderbird design. Her hands are outstretched in a welcoming gesture. Its location in Tollefson Plaza is significant because two prominent villages once existed in downtown Tacoma.

The Tacoma Daily Index first reported on the sculpture in the Dec. 11, 2008, edition of the newspaper. The article is reprinted here:

Native American wood sculpture planned for Tollefson Plaza

Dec. 11, 2008

By Todd Matthews

Five years after organizers conceived a plan to commission an artist to create a Native American wood sculpture welcoming visitors to Tacoma, City officials expect the artwork to be completed this spring.

When finished, the sculpture will be placed in a grassy area near South 17th Street and Pacific Avenue, just west of the Link light rail line and within Tollefson Plaza’s boundary, according to Tacoma Arts Administrator Amy McBride. The sculpture, which will be carved from Old Growth Cedar from the Quinault Rain Forest, will stand 18 feet tall and atop a four foot pedestal. It will be designed by Puyallup tribal artist Shaun Peterson and master carver Greg Colfax of the Makah Nation.

“I’m crossing my fingers this project will be realized this spring,” says McBride. “It’s something that’s been in the works for awhile.”

Indeed, modifications have plagued project since Portland Avenue boosters first thought of it in 2003. Originally sited in the Portland Avenue Business District, it was later moved to downtown Tacoma when the Tacoma Art Museum showed a growing interest and spent $50,000 to commission it. Also, the sculpture was originally designed to depict a male figure, but will now depict a female figure. And the sculpture was originally slated to be placed closer to Pacific Avenue but had to be moved when a bus shelter was installed.

Still, McBride says the log has already arrived in Tacoma, and preliminary work is being done in a storage site on the Puyallup Indian reservation. In addition to the Tacoma Art Museum’s contribution, the City is paying for structural engineering and site preparation.

According to Puyallup Chairman Herman Dillon, the project and its location in Tollefson Plaza are significant because two prominent villages once existed in downtown Tacoma. “It would serve greatly for them to know this sculpture’s tradition pre-dates the city and would speak greatly about the city’s honor to its history,” said Dillon in a letter to the City supporting the project.

Details of the sculpture’s design are documented in a Dec. 3 memo from McBride to the city’s landmarks preservation commission. The sculpture has been submitted to the commission for design review twice — once in 2005, and again this week — because it is being sited in the Union Station Conservation District. According to the memo, the sculpture will depict a female wearing traditional clothing such as a necklace with simulated abalone, a dome hat with black rim often said to have been imported from the Makah Indians, and a Thunderbird design painted on a dance apron regalia. The pedestal will be painted to depict a mountain basket pattern and ancient bracelet motif.

Yesterday, the landmarks preservation commission approved the final location and design modifications for the sculpture.

“I appreciate having something in the city that commemorates native peoples,” said landmarks commissioner Ken House. “It reminds people of the past and sends an educational message.”

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