The Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital expansion – atop MultiCare’s new regional cancer center buildings and the emergency section of Mary Bridge and Tacoma General – isn’t open to the public yet, but the art’s already there, brightening the corridors and waiting rooms with glass sea-life in vivid tangerines and limes. And I was lucky enough yesterday to get a sneak peek at the installations by Jennevieve Schlemmer and the non-profit Hilltop Artists glass program.
The HART installation is interesting in two ways: It’s art made by kids for kids, with ongoing interactions planned; and it’s also visible from the outside. Lining the north windows of the 6th and 7th floor skyway bridges connecting the front building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and the back building on South J Street are 1,400 glass floats, blown by the skilled, hardworking HART students at Jason Lee Middle School. You can see it from the alley just beside the emergency drop-off (but you’ll have to walk underneath the skybridge to see the north window, as the south one was left clear to preserve the views of Mt. Rainier). Gelato-hued floats pile up like bubbles inside an aquarium: cool blues and greens on the lower floor, warm lemons, limes, tangerines and berry colors on the upper.
But the best part can only be seen by the hospital’s young patients and staff. Up close you realize that every so often the glassblowers (at Wilson High, this time) have popped an exquisitely-blown squid or octopus inside a float, so the whole installation goes from abstract beauty to a “Where’s Waldo?” treasure hunt for viewers.
“We wanted something our kids could make that younger kids could relate to,” explains HART manager Greg Piercy of the whole idea. After three months of mostly night-time blowing, the floats took a day and a half to carry up and install in the windows – but it’ll be worth every minute for the illuminated joy they’ll bring to hospital visitors.
The HART/MultiCare art collaboration will continue, with students currently blowing and fusing glass seastars, fish, seaweed and more to create a tidepool installation elsewhere in the building. Then there’s the Faces of Courage wall: When the building’s open, HART students will come in once or twice a month to talk with young patients with serious illness, and get their visual ideas for a courageous face. They’ll make two glass versions – one for the patient, and one to be installed on the wall.
Just past the float window in the front building on the 7th floor is a mosaic by Tacoma artist Jennevieve Schlemmer, who was cleaning off the grout when I peeked in. Made of 17,000 hand-cut stained glass tiles, the 17-foot wide, 7-foot high mosaic shows a Pacific Northwest ocean scene, with giant Pacific octopus, harbor seals, jellyfish and the rest – quite coincidentally the exact same tangerine-lime combination in the float window. It’s bright and joyful, highly tactile, and again offering a visual hide-and-seek that’ll be a welcome diversion for young patients waiting.
The rest of the public art in the new building is all water-themed and all by local artists, including a mosaic by Mauricio Robalino, sky and fish paintings by Mary Ennes Davis, a Puget Sound mural and another octopus mosaic by Tom Bugbee Royal, Coast Salish-style art by Shaun Peterson and nautilus-inspired glass balls by Diane Hansen, though these will only be visible to hospital staff, patients and families. There’ll be a soft opening in May for artists and hospital employees only.
The art follows the hospital’s beginning legacy of working to have sick children cared for in a familiar, home-like environment, explains Mary Bridge’s chief operating officer Mady Murrey, saying that the works was chosen after staff, patients and families met to talk about what the hospital tries to achieve.
“It’s important that we create a space that decreases fear and increases delight, that soothes the family, that invites fun if children feel up to it or reduces stress (if they don’t). There’s a need to have spaces that reinforce healing…and support our staff. These artists exceeded my wildest expectations.”
The hospital requested Pacific Northwest-inspired art, to help make kids feel at home, says Murrey, and most artists came up with an ocean theme.