Public art on Capitol Hill? Hm. The plan was for me to take you on a tour of the public art on Capitol Hill, from Isamu Noguchi’s “Black Sun,” past Richard Beyer’s sleeping reader, over Jack Mackie’s inlaid bronze dancing shoe prints on Broadway, and all the way on down to, say, St. Ignatius, whose gorgeous minimalism isn’t actually public art but nevertheless has got to be a stop on any Capitol Hill art tour. Along the way, we’d remark upon some of the interesting buildings that make up this arty landscape.
So much for plans. It’s raining out. I’d rather stay inside, make us some tea, and tell you a story. This is a true story about Capitol Hill’s public art. It’s maybe even a true-er story than the tour would have been.
Once upon a time, in the early ‘90s, when Capitol Hill was a lot less spiffy than it is today, my mom came for a visit. The guy at the tourism bureau sized her up, pulled out a map, and proceeded to recommend places I should take her to. At the end of his long speech, my mother stuck out a finger and pointed to Capitol Hill. “Isn’t there anything in this area?” she asked. You could see the guy thinking hard for the kind of polite euphemism a Minnesota mother would understand, and then he came up with: “Oh, that’s the alternative area. It’s not,” he said firmly, “for you.”
Well, of course the first thing my mom said when we left was, “Take me to the alternative area. I want to see what an alternative area is.”
And what she saw—helped me to see—was that the people were the alternative area. They are Capitol Hill’s public art. I don’t mean that in an icky, superficial, objectifying way. And she didn’t either. I wish I could put my finger on this concept as easily as my mom put her finger on that map. It’s as though people’s individual styles, their movements, their activities and pursuits, their beings constitute an expression of sorts. It doesn’t matter if that expression is elaborately and expressly crafted for public viewing or if it’s a private, guarded, unintentional essence. Somehow, together, these many expressions create art. It’s something that probably exists everywhere on some level, I think. But this is one of those places where you can just notice it more easily.
Capitol Hill’s public-art collage isn’t new. And I don’t think it relies on any one group of people. 20 years after my mother’s trip here, people are still expressing (purposely or unintentionally) their individuality…together. Like my favorite good art, this Capitol Hill public art tells us about humanity; it inspires us.
Would you like another cup of tea?
Caption: Darryl Smith’s sculpture of Chuck Berry, on the west side of Cal Anderson park, just around the block from his brother-in-bronze, Jimi Hendrix. Their other brother Elvis is just a block or two away, next to the Aveda school. I have a picture of the King there, but, frankly, the doors in that foyer are much more interesting to me (see bottom photo). Art? Really, what is art? While waiting outside Everyday Music, I saw some everyday art: stickers on pole. Looking for something bigger? Check out the mural by on the back of the Capitol Hill Link Light Rail construction site (detail shown above). (Photos by Rosie Gaynor; for info on the mural, contact Purveyorsoffinemagic[at]gmail.com. Yes, do contact them. Imagine having art like that painted onto your living room wall… It’ll be awesome!)