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Artwork anchors new MAX line to region's history

Artists float their interpretations of the past through TriMet project


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Conceptual artist and sculptor Bill Will with one of his one-ton metal boats that sit along the new Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line in Southeast Portland. Drivers along Southeast 17th Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood might be puzzled by the sudden appearance of four weathered metal boats along the new MAX lines. Each is 14 feet long and weighs just under a ton.

The boats first appeared on April 2 and will soon be joined by 34 others, all nestled in the landscape strip between McLoughlin and Powell boulevards. They were moved on flatbed trucks and lowered into place with a crane.

The boats are part of the public art being installed along the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line project that is scheduled to open in September 2015. They were designed by Bill Will, a conceptual sculptor and installation artist. Called “Passage,” passing MAX riders will see them as appearing to float along a one-mile stretch of the street.

Will says installation is intended to reflect the history of the neighborhood. It was built on a 1851 land claim filed by settler Gideon Tibbets. He referred to the property as Brook Land because of the rivers, creeks and lakes that used to be on it. The name later evolved into the current spelling, Brooklyn. There is still a creek buried beneath 17th Avenue.

“This artwork addresses the character and history of this corridor with an installation that suggests a story of passage along an implied stream,” says Will, who also teaches at the Oregon College of Art and Craft in Southwest Portland.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Artist and sculptor Bill Will, second from left, consults with TriMet crews about the placement of his metal boat sculptures that sit along the new light-rail line in Southeast Portland.As Will sees it, “The area that is now 17th Avenue has always been a passage — first as a wildlife corridor to the Willamette River, which is surprisingly close by, and more recently for humans as an important transportation link between the north and the south. Pedestrians, bicyclists, cars, buses and heavy rail pass through this area daily. Soon light-rail transit will add to the mix making this area one the most multimodal in the region.”

The boats were fabricated by Jim Schmidt of Art & Design Works in North Plains. Although they look identical, the boat bottoms vary to fit specific locations. Landscaping will eventually grow around them, giving viewers an understanding of the boats passing through time, too, Will says.

Perhaps surprising, the MAX project will improve the environment in the area. When it is finished, nearly 6 million gallons of stormwater will be treated each year as 17th Avenue becomes so-called Green Street.

Will has a long history of working with TriMet on its MAX projects. He served on the design committee for the westside line to Hillsboro, the first to include public art, and did the Timeline sculpture in the Washington Park station. Although Will had retired from public projects by the time the Interstate MAX Line was built, he came out of retirement for the new project, which will help link two stations on 17th Avenue, one on Holgate Boulevard and one on Rhine street.

Much of another installation is already visible to motorists on Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard — a large earth-cast wheel at the Southeast Tacoma Street/Johnson Creek Station. It was created by Thomas Sayre to reference a 19th century water-powered sawmill that once stood there. A second will be installed later this year.

Like the state, the city of Portland and Multnomah County, and TriMet has a policy of allocating a fixed portion of construction costs of the publicly accessible parts of its large construction projects for art. For the nearly $1.49 billion Portland-to-Milwaukie project, the 1.5 percent allocation amounts to $3 million. The stated goals for the project is to express the uniqueness of each station area, inspire civil discourse and encourage connectivity, stewardship and sustainability.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - TriMet crews begin lowering metal boat sculptures along the new Portland-Milwaukie light-rail line on Southeast 17th Avenue.

Art at the stations

In addition to Will and Sayre, numerous other artists have been commissioned to create works at various locations along the route. They include Buster Simpson, systemwide; Elizabeth Conner, Lincoln Street/Southwest Third Avenue Station; Jim Blashfield, South Waterfront/Southwest Moody Avenue and OMSI/Southeast Water Avenue Station; Douglas Hollis and Anna Valentina Murch, Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail bridge; Anne Storrs, Rhine Street/Lafayette pedestrian bridge; Rebar/Matthew Passmore, Clinton/Southeast 12th Avenue Station; Horatio Law, Powell Boulevard underpass; Dana Lynn Louis, Southeast Bybee Boulevard Station; Brian Goldbloom, Milwaukie/Main Street; Andre Caradec and Thom Faulders, Kellogg Creek Bridge; Susan Zoccola, Southeast Park Avenue Station; Patrick Gracewood, Lee Imonen, Toby Johnson, Cate and Pasha Stinson, Hilary Pfeifer and Chris Papa, Trolley Trail.

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - TriMet crews place one of the metal boat sculptures near light-rail tracks on Southeast 17th Avenue.The artists and their projects were chosen in collaboration with the Regional Arts and Culture Council, the Clackamas Arts Alliance and communities along the route.

Similar public art installations have occurred at stations and other locations along TriMet’s other MAX lines. Although the percent-for-art program was created after the eastside MAX line between Portland and Gresham was finished, TriMet added art when a number of stations were remodeled along it.

The Portland-to-Milwaukie line is more than 75 percent complete. When it is finished, the 7.3-mile line will connect Portland State University in downtown Portland with inner Southeast Portland, Milwaukie and northern Clackamas County. It will include 10 new MAX stations and is projected to carry up to an average of 25,500 weekday riders.

The project is a partnership of the Federal Transit Administration, Metro, TriMet, the city of Portland, the city of Milwaukie, the city of Oregon City, Clackamas County, Multnomah County and the Oregon Department of Transportation.