Surveyors find the beauty in a straight line. Especially if they know how long it is. So imagine their delight when a public installation...

Share story

Surveyors find the beauty in a straight line. Especially if they know how long it is.

So imagine their delight when a public installation celebrating — and protecting — a valuable straight line is unveiled in Magnuson Park June 7.

Seattle artist Perri Lynch has made a monument of the Sand Point calibration baseline by installing a string of 12 6-foot-high limestone columns that line up precisely with one another. The installation, appropriately called “Straight Shot,” features peepholes in each monolith that allow a viewer to get the sort of targeted look a surveyor does.

The line itself is entirely spatial, other than periodic stations marked only by small bronze disks embedded in the ground. Public and private surveyors use the line to verify and calibrate electronic distance-measurement equipment, which aids everything from construction to law enforcement to transportation.

“Everything we build or measure needs a ruler,” says Gavin Schrock, a surveyor and analyst for Seattle Public Utilities. “And we have to make sure all those rulers are the same length. Whether you measure with lasers or satellites or whatever, you have to make sure they all measure the same thing, and that is what the calibration line is about.”

The accuracy of the Sand Point line is said to be within half a millimeter.

The idea germinated about four years ago when it appeared that construction in the sprawling park would interrupt the sight line. There are about a dozen such baselines in Washington, but the Sand Point line is probably the most used in the state.

That’s some line


If you wrapped the Sand Point calibration line around the world, it would pass through, or by, Mount Hood, the Santa Barbara Peninsula, Easter Island, Queen Maud Land in Antarctica, the central Himalayas, British Columbia, Lake Forest Park and Bill Gates’ estate.

Source: Gavin Schrock, surveyor and analyst for Seattle Public Utilities

So geodesists and surveyors, including Schrock, began looking for ways to protect it. They decided it would be easier to reserve the line through public art than by persuading the public how important the invisible feature is. And, they felt, art would probably be a good teacher.

Lynch, whose studio is just down the road from the installation, won the competition. She seemed suited for it. Her practice investigates the relationship between human perception and sense of place. She is drawn to landmarks, like survey stations. She was also enticed by working with this unseen, mostly unknown landmark that the vast majority of us don’t even know exists, let alone holds importance.

“The baseline is a humble bit of infrastructure that brings definition to our world, without most of us ever knowing it’s there,” Lynch says. “A 10-foot-wide, kilometer-long swath cuts straight through Magnuson Park from south to north, yet goes unnoticed by thousands of people every day. Isn’t that amazing? With the artwork now in place, my hope is that the presence of the baseline will register with park users, be revered as something special, and augment the overall park experience.”

Lynch also played with perspective, doubling the distance between one pillar to the next in the line, which begins just south of the boat launch in the southeast corner of the park and stretches to a sports meadow.

The Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and Seattle Public Utilities commissioned the work two years ago with $40,000 from SPU’s One Percent for Art fund. A surveyors association and a private survey-equipment company also contributed.

As part of the goal to illuminate the practice and importance of surveying, historical surveying equipment will be displayed along the line during the dedication, at 10 a.m. June 7.

Richard Seven: 206-464-2241 or rseven@seattletimes.com