Seattle Center Needs Help from the Burke!

I speak for Seattle, the Chief that is!

This issue began with a proposal by the Wright family to honor Dale Chihuly.  They wanted to replace the fun forest at Seattle Center with a gallery devoted to Chihuly’s glass art and a Wright owned restaurant.

Many Seattle folk objected  to the  proposal.. either because they were not fans of  Chihuly’s or because they saw the Wrights’  proposal as serving the interests of the Space Needle, a concession owned by the Wrights.

Why not honor Seattle himself?  Would tourists and young Seattlites really prefer a private collection of the Wright’s favorite artist, or a tribute to the culture that birthed this city?

Now there are several new proposals,  l.  Most of the proposals, including a new variant of the Chihuly proposal, strike me as either commercial, boring, or .. to be blunt .. lacking any kind of originality. All these proposals seem to me to  neglect the most obvious opportunity … the UW,  SAM and the Seattle Center could collaborate to celebrate one of Seattle’s greatest treasures … the collection of Northwest art held by the Burke museum. Why not build a hill to honor the Chief?

A site devoted to Chief Seattle could also take advantage of the great heritage of Professor Bill Holm.  Bill, for those who do not know the story, wrote his thesis at the UW on the topic of design in coastal art.  As a UW Prof, Dr.. Holm worked with the great Kwakiutl artist, Mungo Martin, to teach an entire new generation of artists how to use this ancient and local tradition.  The UW today is the home to both Bill, now emeritus, and to a wonderful sculptor and painter, Marvin Oliver.  Marvin holds the chair once held by Bill.  We, that is the Burke, also “own” a great collection of Northwest coastal people’s art.

An inexpensive first step to using the space at Seattle Center might start with creating a hill,  The top of the hill would overview the Center and have a small plaza.  The center piece of the plaza would be the statue of Chief Seattle, moved from its current role as an ornament of a downtown traffic circle. A spiral trail up the hill, with benches in a northwest style, would be fun both for kids running up and down the trail and for parents or lovers sitting with the sun or rain in their faces.  Tourists would climb to the top to photograph each other with Chief Seattle and the Space Needle in the background.

A more ambitious variation on this theme would be to surround the statue with a playground made of durable objects in the coastal tradition.  These might include dugout long boats for kids to sit in, whale sculptures like those by Bill Holm in front of the Burke , and the sort of log based play structures popular in many playgrounds. Totem poles or large moon faces by Marvin Oliver, Bills successor as Professor of Anthropology,  would add to the excitement of a unique “Seattle” attraction. Maybe we could have a variation on Bill Reids’ raven and clam as well. I suspect local artists would be very willing to compete for that prize commission!

Alongside all this?  A long house,  perhaps using the panels painted for the long house once in the Science Museum.  The house, perhaps named for Bill Holm, could host items from the Burke Museum and the SAM.  Beside creating an exhibit space for some of the more durable items, the long house could offer work space to resident carvers and other artists working in the Northwest tradition.

I would even welcome a concession or two .. perhaps a branch of Ivar’s Salmon House?

Steve Schwartz
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0 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Lawrence Fishkiller #

    or maybe move the Burke to the Center, slap on a couple rides and a fried bread stand and caller her good.

  2. SJ #


    The Burke where it is makes no sense. The place functions as the UW’s attic .. a dreamy trip through dinosaurs (better shown at the Science Center), geology (same), PACRIM culture, and .. esp. NW coastal art.

    The UW needs an attic, but why have so much of it hidden from view? Keep the Burke where it is, as an attic, but move the wonderful NW collection to the center!

  3. Norm Wold #

    I like the Burke where it is and often visit it and my wife and I are members. There are a number of visitors whenever we arrive. Why move it? It is a small museum and makes great use of its space.

  4. theaveeditor #

    Why move it?

    Why keep the Burke behind the ivy covered walls?

    As a UNIVERSITY facility the Burke is a nice amenity. I like the cafe and have rented (at no charge) the museum for a lab meeting.

    But read further. I have no objection to the Burke remaining on campus, or at least the part of it that serves paleontologists, pac rim textile artists, or even paleontology students browsing over old bones. I rather like the idea of UW students sifting through the UW attic. I can see the Burke being retasked in many ways that could serve those ends a LOT better.

    What I resent is our ivy walls enclosing such an important SEATTLE treasure.
    Keeping this heritage in the basement of the Burke (most of the time), not telling the amazing story of Bill Holm and Mungo Martin, not sharing all this … leaves me with one more reason to feel that we, the UW, do not care for the city we live in.

    One last thing. When I was in Amsterdam I freaked out at seeing Jewish objects, even torot, in a museum. Damnit Dutchies, I am alive! How do you imagine a Samish, Puyallup or Makah family feels visiting our city?

  5. 5

    You’re blogging has really come on when I look back over previous posts. Actually I arrived here from a forum on an unrelated topic. Worth surfing sometimes. Thanks.

  6. 6

    This is something certainly worth understanding. There are tons of blogs that really make no sense. Do keep up the fresh work and loads more people will keep coming back.