Tacoma’s new Children’s Museum building isn’t yet open, but some of the art for it was being made last week at Grant Elementary. Third-graders from the arts-based school are helping artist Kristin Tollefson create an iconic tree full of unusual sculpted “fruit” for the museum’s new 8,700 square foot space for when it opens to the public on January 15.
The “playful tree” installation makes use of the Pacific Avenue space’s large vertical support pillars, and will transform one of them into the trunk of a tree, with aluminum branches and sprouting “fantastic fruit,” made by the artist from wire, fabric and beads and designed initially in Fimo clay by Grant students. The sculpture will be ongoing and interactive, with museum visitors encouraged to create fruit of their own to be hung on the tree.
The tree will be part of a play area replicating a forest, to encourage outdoor play and risk. Other areas include water play, a flying machine, an art studio and block construction.
“We want it to be an icon,” said museum program manager Alyssa Tongue. “We hope that it will be continually freshened by our community.”
Artist Kristin Tollefson, based on Bainbridge Island, gave two classes to Grant third-graders last week at the school, showing them real tropical fruit and discussing design ideas for imaginary fruit, then assisting them in translating their color pencil designs to three-dimensional clay sculptures, each no bigger than a marble.
“The tree is meant to be symbolic,” Tollefson said, explaining that the fantastic fruit would be a reflection of the creativity the museum hopes to inspire, rather than just a decorative art piece.
Meanwhile, the Grant students were having a lot of fun sculpting imaginary fruit, working quietly in groups and pairing wild colors and shapes.
“Mine is like a lumpy jackfruit; when you bite into it, it tastes like a star fruit, really tasty,” said Timothy Oas. “I like the idea (of the tree) because it gives children a chance to make real art.”
Khamal Blissitt, who was slicing the edges of a blue, green and gray lump with his knife, expanded: “For kids to see real art that other kids have made in a museum…that’s, like, good.”
And were they having fun?
Yes, nodded Lela Spencer seriously, as she put the finishing touches on her flat, eye-shaped fruit.
The Children’s Museum of Tacoma closes in its current Broadway location on December 19 and will reopen in its new space on the ground floor of the United Way building at 1501 Pacific Ave., Tacoma on January 14. The museum is currently part-way through a $7 million fundraising program to furnish the new space, support early learning and provide a Pay As You Will admissions model.