Art is a balm to the soul, which is perhaps why so many people have been turning to it during this pandemic — music, TV, books, to name a few. But for those who long for visual arts, the pandemic closure of art museums in the state through at least mid-December can feel especially brutal.
Some art galleries remain open, but here’s another idea: You could check out one of Washington’s many outdoor sculpture parks. As always, follow guidelines by wearing a mask, staying 6 feet from others, and checking to make sure you’re following local regulations by avoiding ferry or other travel as advised.
If you’re looking for beauty made by human hands, here are a few places to convene with art outside.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Operated by the Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park is located just up the hill from the Seattle waterfront in Belltown. The free exhibit is open 365 days a year during daylight hours — and 30 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, if you want the prettiest lighting for photos. Around 20 sculptures populate the park, which opened in 2007, though some of the artwork dates back to 1965.
If you’ve walked through before, challenge yourself to find new angles on the statues: underneath, behind, up close. How does the park look on a rainy day, or if we manage to get a dusting of snow this year?
Or spend some time learning about each piece. For example, the bright-red “Eagle” by Alexander Calder, one of the most recognizable pieces in the park, was commissioned by a bank and originally located in Fort Worth, Texas, before being relocated to Seattle in 2000. The fortresslike sculpture “Stinger” was attributed to Tony Smith, though it was made nearly 20 years after his death. He’d initially created a plywood version in 1960 but envisioned it made of steel; his wife later had the current version fabricated and donated it to the park in 2004. Search SAM’s “Collections” tab on its website for the most detailed information on each piece (art.seattleartmuseum.org/collections).
2901 Western Ave., Seattle; open year-round; free; seattleartmuseum.org
Price Sculpture Forest
Nestled east of downtown Coupeville on Whidbey Island, Price Sculpture Forest officially opened to the public Oct. 23. Part nature walk, part sculpture tour, the 16.3-acre park has two loops through a century-old forest for guests to peruse. The Nature Nurtured path features sculptures that take inspiration from the earth’s natural elements, while Whimsy Way departs from the nature theme and instead is, well, more whimsical.
Look for instructions on how to access a self-guided tour via your smartphone at the kiosk desk. You may want to bring headphones, as you’ll be getting a short video explainer from each of the artists featured in the park, though text descriptions are also available through the digital tour. But don’t leave them in for too long, as the park is a conservation area — keep an ear out for critters and birdsong.
678 Parker Rd., Whidbey Island; open year-round; free but donations accepted; sculptureforest.org
Earth Sanctuary Sculpture Garden
Earth Sanctuary is a 72-acre nature reserve on Whidbey Island, combining art, ecology and spirituality. If you need a meditative moment (and really, who among us doesn’t?), the Sacred Space Sculpture Garden might be up your alley.
There are two circular exhibits with stone structures reaching up to 11 feet high, arranged to align with north-south directions and solstice sunrise and sunset.
Check out the “Ley Line” sculpture, which features a 56-foot-long charred driftwood corridor that the exhibitor says aligns with the earth’s energies. The Earth Sanctuary website even has video instruction on how to meditate effectively with the exhibit. Other sculptures include a medicine wheel (photos not allowed), a 24-foot column comprised of stainless steel triangles, and stacked upright stones reminiscent of Stonehenge.
2059 Newman Rd., Whidbey Island; open year-round; $7 entrance fee; earthsanctuary.org
San Juan Islands Sculpture Park
Located in Roche Harbor on San Juan Island, more than 150 sculptures inhabit the 20-acre San Juan Islands Sculpture Park.
Each sculpture is chosen by a blind-selection juried process, and if you’re in the market for your own art, every piece is for sale with price tags attached. Follow five trails on a self-guided tour of unique animal sculptures like whales and foxes, mythical creatures like dragons, or colorful and abstract exhibits from artists well known and unknown. Art is rotated on a monthly basis.
9083 Roche Harbor Road, San Juan Island; open year-round; $5 suggested donation for adults; sjisculpturepark.com
Big Rock Garden Park
There are 37 works of art in the small — it’s just 2.5 acres — but mighty Big Rock Garden Park in Bellingham. In the springtime, colorful rhododendrons and azaleas bloom around the artwork. In the fall, more than 100 varieties of maple turn color to beckon in fall. During the winter months, you’ll be surrounded by Western Washington’s trademark evergreens. The park isn’t far from the north end of Lake Whatcom and Whatcom Falls State Park if you’re looking to stretch your legs a bit more.
2900 Sylvan Street, Bellingham; open year-round; free; cob.org/services/recreation/parks-trails/parks-guide/big-rock
Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park
A single artist is responsible for dozens of sculptures at Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park near the Longmire entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. Dan Klennert started the sculpture park when he discovered a ravine full of old metal scrap and began helping himself to what others had deemed trash.
Klennert’s sculptures are made of found objects and welded into shapes like seahorses, spiders, salmon, birds and horses. Look closely and you’ll notice wrenches, fans and the other junk that helped achieve the final pieces. At 70, Klennert is now semiretired and has turned the park over to his son-in-law, Jason Bechtold, who also creates found artwork and has begun adding his pieces to the park.
22410 WA-706, Ashford; open year-round; suggested $5 donation; visitrainier.com/ex-nihilo-sculpture-park
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