For years, the Water Forest sculpture outside Tacoma’s Museum of Glass has proved too hard for vandals to resist and too fragile for the general public to handle.
The interactive sculpture, installed in 2002 at a cost of $208,000, was damaged when it was only two months old. It took seven years and $120,000 to fix it.
The city spent another $25,000 between 2009 and 2014 to strengthen it and try to keep it running.
Now it’s banged up again and might be removed from the plaza permanently.
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Last month, two of the 20 water-flowing tubes were bent and their base connections damaged in what the city believes was another case of vandalism.
“It’s so disheartening, really, to have to continue to deal with this,” said Amy McBride, the arts administrator for the city of Tacoma. “We thought we had it fixed (in 2009).”
Instead, the city recently had to shut off the water, dismantle the broken pieces and cover the holes with grates. Officials must decide whether to fix it again — or cut their losses and take it out, McBride said.
She estimated the new repairs would cost at least $100,000. She can’t be sure until she has a bid in hand and consults with engineers, city planners and artists.
On Aug. 10, she will present a bid to the city Art Commission and discuss options.
The piece, created by Rhode Island artist Howard Ben Tré, was installed for the museum’s grand opening. It marked the return of Tacoma's publicly funded art program after it was repealed in the 1980s.
With its bronze patina and water-filled acrylic tubes, the sculpture simultaneously imbues a spirit of the area’s industrial marine history and the natural lunar forces of the tides.
It comes into view to pedestrians who descend the grand staircase at the entrance to the museum facing the Foss Waterway.
About 40 feet in diameter, the sculpture comprises 20 acrylic and bronze tubes, each measuring 10 feet tall, that light up at night. The 12 tubes on the outside and eight on the inside form concentric circles with a circular granite bench in the middle.
When it works, the piece creates a space for people to hang out on the waterfront on sunny days and cool off in the wet ambiance.
Seawater, driven by the ebb and flow of Commencement Bay, is pumped into the sculpture by a series of pumps, filling the tubes until they overflow.
The art piece was unveiled to much fanfare 13 years ago and still serves as an integral feature of the museum entrance.
“I think it ties the museum together nicely with the waterfront and the port,” said Tacoma resident Maria Alvarez this week while visiting the sculpture and waterfront area.
Tacoma resident Elizabeth Recktenaald has enjoyed the sculpture on her walks along the waterfront but feels it’s time for a change.
“I don’t think it’s worth it,” she said “Because obviously they are going to have to do a lot more work to fix it.”
McBride said the repair of 2009 was engineered using the “gorilla rule” as a guide. It was supposed to withstand 800 pounds of lateral pressure.
McBride said the city was delighted to have the piece back up and working.
“But that was only short lived,” she said.
The redesign work was not strong enough. And with this current damage, “the nightmare continues.”
McBride has spoken to the museum.
“We have had conversations about how much more we can expect to get out of it,” she said. “It is at the front door of the museum, so we have to be very considerate about what we replace it with.”
Museum spokeswoman Hillary Ryan said the museum will work with the city and the arts commission on a plan to repair or replace the Water Forest.
“It’s good to have a piece of public art at the museum’s arrival point. It’s the first thing the public sees,” Ryan said. “We want it to be the best it can be.”
David Anderson: 253-597-8670