As a visual artist myself, I always take the time to enjoy public and private art in a variety of settings. Since moving to Queen Anne hill in 1974, I often stopped at one of these public art destinations at Betty Bowen Viewpoint nearly every week. The viewpoint features a series of large, enigmatic cast concrete art panels embedded into the City walkway. Initially, I had no idea who Betty Bowen was or how these cryptic artworks came to be installed into the park’s Southwest corner. Many years later, I discovered that the panels had been installed in 1978 as a memorial to art patron Betty Bowen and that additionally, her friends had established an artist support grant in her name after her death. She had been a staunch supporter of the artists whose work appeared at the viewpoint named after her.
In 2002, still completely unaware of who had actually created the panels at the Viewpoint, I purchased art critic Dolores Tarzan Ament’s book, Iridescent Light: The Emergence of Northwest Art. I loved reading details about the lives and work of so many “Northwest Visionary” artists whose work I had long admired. Like me, these artists had also been drawn to explore and visually document what they referred to as “the Mysteries”— the blended influences from Asian arts and philosophies that were reflected in the visual poetry of their work.
On my next walk to Betty Bowen Viewpoint after reading Ms. Ament’s book, I discovered a small, explanatory plaque on the eastern side of the installation that listed the names of the artists whose work appeared there. I was stunned to realize that for many years I had been living only a few blocks away from real artwork created by many of my Northwest art heroes.
For the 2003, 2004 and 2005 Queen Anne Treewalk, a collaborative public arts event sponsored by the non-profit arts group Cambium Arts Resources (that I founded in 2002) and the City of Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, I honored Betty Bowen and the artists she supported by creating a site-specific, one-day installation titled Visionary Voices, that highlighted each artist’s work and thoughts. I collaborated with photographer Mary Randlett (whose artist photos were included in Ms. Ament’s book) to create copies of the artists’ portraits. I then placed the portraits into silver frames set on small wooden plaques that featured a quote from each artist laminated to the plaque’s surface. Finally, to draw attention to work that had been clearly visible but often unnoticed at the viewpoint since 1978, I surrounded each artist’s concrete design with a portable wooden frame.
Photographer Mary Randlett was present at the first Visionary Voices installation on the day of the Treewalk in 2003, and excitedly described the event as “a Happening”. Docents at the installation reported that many neighborhood walkers who stopped to view the installation insisted that even though they had lived on Queen Anne “forever”, they had never seen the concrete artist designs before the day of the Treewalk.
But elegant photos, inspiring quotes and wooden frames in 2003, 2004 and 2005 brought each artist’s legacy, along with Betty Bowen’s, into more inspiring focus.