Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Manhole Covers

'Untitled' (1976). Tlingit whale relief by Nathan Jackson.

We know about the gorgeous manhole covers in Japan. The cities and municipalities have produced many since the 1980s and luckily for us, we can see them on Instagram. We probably took many photos of those covers ourselves too.

Walking to lunch one cloudy day in Seattle, I spotted one manhole cover art, then another, and a third and fourth. For days after, they simply jumped out at me as I walked by them. Call them hatch covers if you prefer. Realized there're plenty dotted around downtown.

Google told me that out of thousands of mundane undecorated covers, there're 115 art pieces commissioned by the city council under Seattle's public art program in a project that has its roots in the late 1970s, inspired by similar art pieces in Florence, Italy.  The project became dormant, then was revived in 2000. Apparently, Seattle Public Utilities move and swop out these covers as and when required; nobody has done a detailed map or a list of those covers. Okaay. Even found one that's slightly older than I am. Hurhurhur. That would be Nathan Jackson's untitled work of a Tlingit whale relief, originally done in wood and recast in iron in 1976.

Of all seen and googled, the first I spotted remains my favorite piece. It speaks to me the most. Titled 'Water Ring', it is placed on Capitol Hill, done by Fremont artist Betsy Best-Spadaro in 2001. The art depicts women, fish, orcas and whales swimming in a circle. Found a description about it; the cover art portrays,

The interaction between human and marine life, and the water cycle. The first is shown through images of marine animals correlated to bodies of water in the region, including orcas (the Puget Sound) and salmon (streams and rivers); within this design humans swimming with the marine life illustrate the need for good water quality, a responsibility of Seattle Public Utilities’ drainage and wastewater infrastructure. Surrounding these images are a series of rings that describe the water cycle,  from rain to bodies of water culminating in a center ring that depicts clean water returning to the waterways through sewers and drainage systems.

Betsy Best-Spadaro's 'Water Ring' (2001).

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