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Sunday, October 25, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Art And Sport: What You'll See Next Year At The Ballpark

Seattle Times Art Critic

The artists who have been commissioned to make artworks for Safeco Field come mostly from Seattle, and most have made public art before. Here are descriptions of what you'll see in the ballpark next summer:

-- Certainly the most complex of the art works is the project by Stable, the team of Michael Machnic, Stuart Keeler and Linda Beaumont. The trio will create an environment in the stadium's main entry and grand staircase that is pregnant with historical, literary and metaphorical references to baseball and Seattle. The project will include staining the concrete floor of the entryway to suggest the churning blue waters of Puget Sound, then staining the wide staircase to the main concourse the color of rich brown earth. At the top of the staircase the artists will build into the floor an elaborate, 27-foot-wide inlaid compass rose, a reference not only to the Mariners' ball team but to the intrepid nautical mariners who were so important to this region's early history.

The gates around the entry will be designed with slanting "lanyards' of steel to suggest the rigging of tall ships, and quotations about baseball from such authors as Don DeLillo and J.D. Salinger will be inscribed on plaques on the gates. Near the center of the entryway the trio will suspend a resin baseball bat sculpture, a dramatic piece suggesting the maelstrom of a storm on the high seas, or the path of a baseball bat being swung by a slugger.

The trio is well-known for public art in Seattle. Together they created a series of bus shelters along Eastlake Avenue that appear to be canoes or rowing sculls suspended in air. Beaumont is also the creator of a beautiful alcove in the sublime Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University.

-- For sheer humor and joy, the field's most popular artwork will likely be Gerard Tsutakawa's aptly named "Mitt." The fabricated bronze piece will resemble a 9-foot-tall, playful, five-fingered catcher's mitt or first baseman's glove, though as some sports fans have made plain, the large, round hole in the center opens the piece up to debate.

"I think when the team is doing well the aperture will be perceived as a line drive," said Tsutakawa. "Otherwise people will see it as a hole in the mitt. I wanted there to be some controversy, so that's OK. But I'm also using the aperture for light, to allow light to pass through. As I learned from my father (the late, much admired sculptor George Tustakawa), you always want there to be some lightness, even in a big piece."

Tsutakawa also likes the idea that the hole will be about 3 1/2 feet off the ground, just the right height for kids to crawl through. "It'll be on the sidewalk; I want kids to enjoy it," said Tsutakawa, who added that his own love of baseball is connected with coaching his 9-year-old son's pee-wee team and taking the boy to professional games. To keep children from being burned by the heat that a 3,000-pound of bronze sculpture can soak up on a sunny afternoon, it will be filled with sand, which draws the heat away from the bronze. The piece will weigh a whopping 20,000 pounds once the sand goes in.

Ironically, Tsutakawa was using the mitt shape in his sculptures years ago, when a new stadium was just a twinkle in the eye of local business people. At a show at Foster/White Gallery in 1994, Tsutakawa exhibited a group of small (about 7 inches high) rounded bronze sculptures with holes in the middle and three stubby tails that could be interpreted as fingers. He called the sculptures "comets" then, and said they were inspired by the Shoemaker Levi comet that hit Jupiter a few years ago.

-- The most conceptual of the stadium art projects is Helen Lessick's series of trading cards. Lessick is designing 15 cards that will each be printed in editions of 10,000 for a total of 150,000 cards. They will be given away at certain games during the season. But instead of being about players, the cards will be about the history, traditions and physics of the game.

Lessick, who admits to a fondness for research, has spent long months researching the history of the seventh-inning stretch, for instance. She found that it started when President William Howard Taft, a very large man, became uncomfortable from sitting so long at a game and stood up during the seventh inning. Out of respect, everybody else stood up, too. A tradition was born.

Lessick hopes the cards will be collected and traded like other baseball cards.

"What I'm trying to do is create a sense of wonder about the game," said Lessick. "Baseball is an incredible metaphor for life. I'm also trying to comment on the nature of sports memorabilia."

The conceptual part of the project partly involves the distribution of the cards, which Lessick says still is being debated. Her original idea was to have the cards come out of special vending machines. But when the Mariners decided the machines were too likely to malfunction, Lessick suggested hiring actors, dressing them as peanut vendors and having them give away the cards. It is still unclear how and when the cards will be distributed.

-- Tina Hoggatt also has put a lot of historical research into her project, which involves mounting nine 3-foot-by-5-foot double-sided panels around the third-level concourse. Each porcelain, enamel and steel panel will be about a baseball player who exemplified his, or her, position. Hoggatt has included players from the now-defunct women's and Negro leagues, as well as a player from one of Japan's pro teams.

-- Thom Ross plans to re-create visually a spectacular moment in the history of the Mariners by making a three-dimensional tableau showing Ken Griffey Jr. scoring against the Yankees in the 1995 world series. A part of the tableau is now on view at F.X. McCrory's restaurant and bar in Pioneer Square.

-- Even the garage is getting art. Don Fels is putting large metal panels showing a hand grasping a baseball on concrete columns supporting the garage roof. Each panel will show how the pitcher holds the ball for a particular standard pitch, such as a fastball, curveball, slider and knuckle ball.

Fels, who was brought into the project relatively late, said he is not the least disappointed that his art will be in the garage rather than the stadium.

"I like the fact that people aren't going to the stadium to look at art. They're going to look at baseball. And it's an interesting challenge for me as an artist to make something that flows in and out of public life. It pushes me as an artist. I want to make people really look."

Published Correction Date: 10/27/98 - A Piece Of Public Art To Go Up In The New Mariner Stadium, Safeco Field, Shows An Important Moment In The 1995 Playoff Series In Which The Mariners Participated. This Story Incorrectly Described The Scene.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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