Artwork telling Edmonds history diverse

EDMONDS — Ballet slippers. A ticket stub. A dahlia. And a Highway 99 road sign.

Each of these bronze sculptures, created by Seattle artist Judith Caldwell, helps tell a piece of Edmonds’ history.

They’re among 100 bronze creations made by Caldwell as part of an unusual project combining the city’s history with public art.

The project had “more parts, processes, people and complexity” than any public art project she’s worked on in the past 25 years, she said.

“For starters, when I was brought in, there were still a lot of questions as to which sites were going to be selected,” she said. “It took several months to narrow down the places that were perceived as good candidates, ones that would give us the richest amount of subject matter and the broadest appeal.”

Caldwell began work on the project, called Stages of History, in 2011, learning all she could about the community’s history. The city organized meetings and interviewed local residents to gather more information.

The Edmonds South-Snohomish County Historical Society and Museum helped gather historic photographs, some of which have been etched into the 12 historic markers that will be displayed later this month throughout downtown Edmonds.

Caldwell calls the historic markers “little urban story-telling machines.”

Their overall design is based on old-fashioned puppet theaters, she said. The marker closest to the Edmonds Center for the Arts, decorated with sculpted theatrical masks and ballet slippers, a has a cutout in the middle. “Someone will be able to hang a curtain and stand behind it and do a puppet show,” Caldwell said.

“I wanted to make it interesting to children,” she said. “And I wanted to make it look like sculpture, not signage.”

Some of the other sculptures include a dahlia, representing the town flower, a movie ticket on a sign that tells of the opening of the city’s first movie theater in 1909, and a gavel for a sign telling the history of the IOOF building, which served as Edmonds’ first town hall.

The sign at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street has a sculpture not only of the city’s founder, George Brackett, but of his dog and his ox. The story long told in the city is that the names of the two animals were added to the town’s 1889 census, which otherwise would have been two short of the 300 people needed for the city’s incorporation.

“The account dates back far enough that it could be true,” Caldwell said. “On the other hand, the source of this is someone known to be a bit of a story-teller.”

On some of the markers, the reason for including the sculptured items will be obvious, she said. On others, people interested in knowing more about the symbols might have to do a little research, such as using the website created as part of Stages of History project or by linking with the QR code on each sign.

“When I make a public art project, I try to do something that isn’t immediately apparent what it all means,” she said. “This was a golden opportunity to do a lot of that with these little bronze castings. You can speculate on what it is or you can go to the website and they will tell you.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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