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Originally published Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Get a head STart on light-rail artwork

Sound Transit's public art project — called STart — is making a mark on the Martin Luther King Jr. Way corridor, with choice sculptures by Roger Shimomura, Buster Simpson and Richard C. Elliott.

Seattle Times art critic

Map | Sound Transit art / MLK Way corridor

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Hardly seems possible, but a year from now we will be able to step on a Sound Transit light-rail train and zip along from downtown through Rainier Valley all the way to Tukwila, just a hop from Sea-Tac. By the end of 2009, we'll be able to ride straight through to the airport, feeling smug about reducing pollution, freeway congestion, gasoline consumption and our own stress levels.

In the meantime, with many of the stations near completion and work wrapping up along the four-plus-mile Martin Luther King Jr. Way corridor, a number of Sound Transit's 1-percent-for-art (STart) projects have been installed. For a preview, you can walk, bike, take the No. 42 Metro bus or drive along the route. You can view some pieces from the road (stations are still construction zones and not open to visitors) and others — installed in completed public areas — up close.

Seattle artist Norie Sato was the lead artist and curator of the MLK corridor art projects and chose the theme "Culture Conversations" as a guiding principle. Some of the artworks are free-standing; others are functional (such as benches) or integrated into the station designs.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Roger Shimomura's "Rainier Valley Haiku," recently installed on Myrtle Plaza across from the Othello Station, is a nearly 20-foot-tall totem of giant stacked objects: a Japanese wooden sandal, a Creamsicle, a rice bowl with chopsticks, a businessman's black shoe and a graduation cap. Well-known for his gutsy (and often hilarious) commentaries on race and cultural issues, as well as his moving recollections of life at Minidoka internment camp during World War II, Shimomura often relies on cartoon-simplicity and primary colors in his art. Don't be fooled. His images always carry a more complex message.

In this case, he also garnered community involvement in his piece. Shimomura has invited the public to view the artwork and submit a haiku in response. Selected haiku will be inscribed on plaques and mounted on a nearby wall. The concrete base of "Rainier Valley Haiku" is already inscribed with haiku by four respected writers, Colleen J. McElroy, Suzanne Bottelli, Alan Lau and Kathleen Alcal. (For more information:

Buster Simpson's "Parable," on the North Plaza at Rainier Beach Station, brings with it the artist's usual visual punning. Shaped like a giant bowl of pears, Simpson's sculpture is charming to look at and an elegant commentary on urban growth and change. The "bowl" is made of recycled rails, and the split fruits, cast iron with a rosy patina of rust, seem to morph between the forms of pears and wrecking balls. Eventually, lights will be installed beneath the piece to illuminate it from within.

Richard C. Elliott's "Sound of Light" spans a stretch of retaining wall along MLK near Hudson with 35 of his vivacious reflector mosaics. As you move past, the Popsicle-hued geometric patterns shimmer and shift. No hidden meanings here. Elliott makes unabashed eye candy that will brighten the journey of any passer-by.

Soon to be installed, Augusta Asberry's "Come Dance With Me," a group of stylized cutout steel figures of joyously dancing African women, looks toward the traditions of her ancestors. Sadly, the Bremerton artist died last year of breast cancer at age 75 before her piece was completed. Seattle artist Keith Haynes is finishing the painting on the sculptures, which are slated for installation this summer on the South Plaza at the Othello Station.

In a statement for her Women Painters of Washington biography, Asberry said about her work: "Designs, color and motion are the elements that dance around in my head and become the heart of my work. My off-balanced arrangement of these elements without a focal point is like 'offbeat phrasing in jazz music.' I invite the viewer to linger awhile and 'listen for the beat that is never sounded.' "

Sheila Farr:

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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