I had achieved a bit of notoriety for my ARTSparks Artificial Light installation at Occidental Park summer 2011. After a month of painstakingly sewing sweaters around the trees, they only got to stay up for an additional month. When the project was taken down to make room for other installing artists in the program, I was told the city had received complaints from visitors who were disappointed the tree sweaters had been removed so soon.
Soon after, I received a phone call from Seattle Parks and Recreation asking if I would be willing to re-install Artificial Light in a nearby park. They suggested City Hall Park, adjacent to the Court House. Having made it through the tedious installation in Occidental Park I counted myself lucky. Moving the project to City Hall Park – I was terrified!
This park has been called many things over time, “Muscatel Meadows” among the more colorful descriptors. It had never been viewed as a friendly and inviting place to walk through. The trees provide a rich canopy of steady darkness (even on sunny days), homeless populated the benches, drug deals transpired with frequency.
One of the things I love most about creating my art is the opportunity to interact with the public while installing. People are curious by nature, and that was no different when I arrived at City Hall Park.
I’ll admit it’s a little odd to see someone carefully measuring every surface of the park, taking notes, making drawings. From day one residents of the park wanted to talk to me. What was I doing? Why was I doing it? What was it for? They were surprised that anyone would care to put anything of value in that park.
The day I began installing, the park residents greeted me as I pulled my ladder out of my van and rolled it up to the first tree. From that day on we had regular conversations, the basic getting to know you questions that start every relationship.
Over time as I began to show up with more regularity, they offered to help carry my ladder, hold the sweaters off the ground to keep them from getting dirty, steady my ladder as I reached into the heights of the tree. They even brought me drinks and offered me food.
My favorite piece of advice offered by them wasn’t initially obvious to me. They were adamant I should raise the lower hem of the sweaters, at least to waist height. “We urinate on the trees,” they explained. No kidding!? I was more than happy to accommodate their suggestions after that tip.
It took about a month to install sweaters on all the trees. The transformation to the park was pretty remarkable and not just due to my knitting skills. People of all walks of life began to enter the space.
The homeless people who spent every day in the park took ownership of the space. They kept the trash picked up. They protected the sweaters from harm.
I offered them postcards of my project. We’d talked so often throughout the month, I knew their stories and they knew mine. They became transient docents of Artificial Light, interacting with people who gathered to take in the bright color, passed out my postcards, shared my stories.
They knew the rationale behind my project, were there to witness how everything came together, and were pleased to feel included in the project. “Suzanne, we are famous in Paris and Tokyo!” exclaimed one enthusiastic park docent. I knit him a custom hat as thanks.
During my five months in and out of City Hall Park, I tried to bring small comforts to my park friends – backpacks, batteries, hats, scarves, food, tarps, whatever I could manage. Sadly, due to the transient nature of their existence I’ve lost track of them in the years since that installation. I remember their stories and can only hope they moved on to better circumstances.
Suzanne Tidwell is a prolific fiber artist. She currently finds herself working with recycled materials and miles of acrylic yarn, creating fantasy environments by means of large scale public knit installations at her studio inside Project 106 Artist Studios in Pioneer Square.
After many years of moving around, Suzanne is pleased to finally be settled on Seattle’s Eastside. In 1993, she graduated from the University of North Texas with a BA in Visual Art Studies. She has taught art to children and adults in schools, through art museum programs and privately. She credits her artistic revitalization to completing her certificate in Fiber Arts from the University of Washington in 2010, her graduation from the Artist Trust EDGE program in 2012, and her participation in the Welding Tec program at Green River College.