Before Oregon artist Anna Fornachon began designing the mosaic centerpieces of five intersections on Point Ruston’s new Waterwalk waterfront pathway, she took time to learn some marine biology.
Fornachon studied books and videos, photos and real life examples of the fish and sea creatures that inhabit the waters of Puget Sound.
That knowledge inspired her intricate but large scale designs that demarcate the five main entry points to the Waterwalk pathway as it connects the end of Ruston Way’s existing path to Point Defiance Park.
She, along with Point Ruston’s artist-in-residence Robert Gilbert and a team of craftspeople, have been working for months to create and install those art pieces along the still-unopened pathway.
Next month the public will get its first up-close views of her work and that of other artists who have labored to make the Waterwalk not just a utilitarian pedestrian, skate, bike, running, and dog path, but also a linear art gallery that reflects the life in the bay beyond the path’s edge.
The first phase of the path, from the north end of Ruston Way to Point Ruston’s ferry boat sales office, is expected to open in November, said Loren Cohen, legal affairs manager for the massive mixed use development. The remainder of the path from the ferry boat to Point Defiance Park is expected to open early next year.
Gilbert, who has spent five years incorporating art elements into the design of the commercial, residential and public spaces in the Point Ruston plan, said the project’s design was created with art as an integral part of the project, not just an add-on element.
“With so many developments, they design and build the project, and at the last minute they decide they need some art and they hang a painting in the lobby,” he said.
Not so with Point Ruston, a project built on the site of the former Asarco copper smelter abutting Point Defiance Park in Ruston and Tacoma.
The elements of even something as simple as the path, were designed to relate both to bay but also to the site’s heritage as a copper smelter.
The benches along the pathway, for instance, are shaped like copper-colored mooring cleats that were used to tie up the freighters that brought copper ore to the Asarco Smelter. The trash cans will be wrapped with reproductions of historic photographs of the Tacoma, Ruston and the smelter.
At one point along the pathway, the developers are erecting an muscular trellis whose four stone support columns will frame the view of Mount Rainier rising above the city. The trellis will be decorated with art from tile artist Claudia Riedener. It will support growing hops vines that hark back to the time when the Puyallup Valley was a center for hops cultivation.
The principal artwork along the Waterwalk, however, will be underfoot.
The largest of the five mosaic art pieces will greet walkers as they enter the Waterwalk.
That mosaic depicts a Giant Pacific Octopus native to Puget Sound. The largest octopuses in the world, some examples have reaches of more than 20 feet.
Fornachon said the octopus depicted in the Waterwalk mosaic was modeled after some she saw in videos living below the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, huge and surprisingly intelligent creatures adapted to the deep waters of the Sound.
The mosaic octopus stretches 33 feet from end to end.
Other pathway intersection mosaics depict other Puget Sound sea creatures, salmon, ratfish, starfish, jellyfish, squid, sea cucumbers, sea bass, rockfish and others.
Creating and installing the mosaics was a complex process. First Fornachon made pencil drawings, then scanned those drawings into a computer and then enlarged them to the scale of the finished mosaic. The mosaics were divided into panels for fabrication.
Using specially hardened tiles created by a Los Angeles tile factory he formerly owned, Gilbert sent the tiles to India where the jigsaw puzzle pieces were cut with water jets and applied to a mesh backing. The panels were then shipped to Tacoma for installation.
Because the mosaics are so large, the finished art works incorporate periodic seams of flexible caulking that will allow the art to expand and contract with the weather without buckling or cracking.
As the weather deteriorates, much of the unfinished work will have to be done beneath the shelter of a new 40-foot-by-40-foot tent to keep the work and the workers dry in the coming months.
Another feature of the pathway will be sections that Gilbert calls “paisley water.” Designed by muralist Jeremy Gregory, those parts of the path will pioneer the use of asphalt coatings developed for use to mark crosswalks and to designate street lanes.
That coating is designed to be extremely tough and wear resistant. Instead of the traditional white and yellow colors used in streets, the art will use watery colors of blues and greens to coat portions of the 20-foot-wide asphalt path in an aqueous design. The idea is of walking on water, not on asphalt.
Under a deal that Point Ruston negotiated with the City of Tacoma, the developer will turn over the finished Waterwalk property and improvements to the city when it is completed. In return, the city is paying $6 million for the property.
Developer Mike Cohen claims the city will get a bargain in the land deal. The property itself, he said, is worth more than the $6 million the city is paying. The improvements including extensive reworking of the rock bulkheads protecting the property, the grading, paving and art have cost an additional $5 million, he said.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663