Pandemic life in Seattle offers ups and down and many uncertainties — as we’re in a strange zone of things opening back up, only to close a few months later. Almost a year into Covid-19 it feels like nothing is for certain and an oppressive fog, literally and figuratively, might seem to be closing around us, with limited choices for spending free time. But even as our museums remain shuttered and social distancing guidelines are hammered into the conscious, options do exist for stimulation outside the home. With a little creativity, art and inspiration can be found all over Seattle — outside and socially distanced. I wrote about the Art of the CHOP last summer, and many of the murals so passionately painted in the area still exist, including the large Black Lives Matter letters on E Pine Street (between Broadway and 11th Ave). And only blocks away the art of Seattle University offers a fine example of outdoor things to do in the city during quarantine.
Winter in Seattle is known for being drab and gray but the benefit of a temperate season is the ability to get outside and wander the streets and neighborhoods of the Emerald City, taking in the quiet hibernating nature of beautiful parks and gardens, some of which I wrote about in Seattle in Winter — outdoor things to do. Since I’m always up for putting on waterproof boots in order to explore my city, I recently took a stroll through Seattle University, searching for the Japanese Tea Garden. Along the way I got sidetracked with so many interesting features of the well-kept premises — located on the line between Capitol Hill and First Hill neighborhoods in close-in Seattle. What was expected to be a quick tour of the asian inspired garden turned into several hours roaming the maze of the compact campus, with all kinds of art and inspiration budding from all directions.
This photo gallery highlights my favorite things in one afternoon discovering the outdoor art of Seattle University
Seattle Univeristy has a special place in my heart for two reasons. First, the school is my neighbor on Capitol Hill and existed mere blocks away from all the passionate protesting that occurred in the Summer of 2020 around an ongoing fight for equality surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement (the photos above were taken across the street from the University). This is my neighborhood and I appreciate that this Catholic-based college provides students with an urban learning environment. Secondly, my mom attended this Jesuit University back in the 1950’s — studying education and English. In a way, I owe my early spark for writing to the training she gained from this school (passing it on to me growing up). In fact, a number of my relatives attended Seattle U back in the day and they’d probably be surprised at the expansion and building on campus over the years.
My exploration took place on a mild day in the darkest time of the year, strolling through the collection of buildings — harkening to almost each of the past 13 decades of the school’s existence. From the original building hugging busy Madison Avenue to the athletic complex on the opposite side of Cherry Street, the campus is woven together by spaces of green grass and well-planned gardens. In fact, I counted seven different specially themed gardens contributing to the beautiful ecosystem: ethnobotanical, biodiversity, Shakespeare, rain, shade, Japanese and community vegetable (ethnobotanical and Japanese shown above). Although Winter does not offer the most colorful view of these gardens, textures still come to life with the bare bark of shrubs and trees, some holding bright red berries picked off by energetic birds foraging for a feast.
Art through architecture — the framework of Seattle University
Like many universities, expansion over time leads to a mixture of styles on campus. Seattle Univeristy is no different, as the system of education buildings now sprawls over three distinct zones amongst many blocks of First Hill. Even as I traversed the wide sidewalks, a sleek, modern fusion of glass and steel was under construction — offering expansion in both learning and the design of the campus. On the other end of the spectrum, I ran across Loyola Hall, opened in 1956 (the year my mom entered school here) and named after St. Ignatius Loyola. Although the structure has seen remodels over time, a statue of the saint (shown above) remains embedded into an alcove of the entrance to the current School of Education building.
Art and meditation inspiration in the open spaces
The school has several open spaces that seem to create different wide areas that live in balance within the complex of buildings. Even in the quieter field on the Northwest corner, which probably used to be in the center of campus, locals out for their daily walk passed by the shrine to the blessed virgin Mary (shown above) amidst a wide field of soggy grass bordered by a quiet collection of rhododendron, maple and ferns, tucked in by the collection of fallen leaves.
Artwork above from top to bottom: Meditation Labyrinth (2020); Loo Wit (1980), by James Rosati; Untitled (1990), by Joel Shapiro. I like to call it “Reading Elation”; Shrine dedicated to Mary presented by the student body of 1949-1950.
Creative expression is the fabric of the campus — Seattle Univeristy’s outdoor museum
Just as sprinkles add important texture to a sundae, Seattle University is decorated with interesting pieces of art, installed over time. They breathe life into the dormant campus and offer quiet moments of contemplation. I enjoy the peace and tranquility that exists with only a scattering of people walking to and fro. The sculptures seem to embody Jesuit missions of intellectual inquiry, education and community service.
Artwork above from top to bottom: It is Good (1999), by John Sisko; Aspiration (2018), by Tony Angell; Bowl of Tears (1997), by Sandra Zeiset Richardson, honoring the Martyrs of El Salvador.
Chapel of St. Ignatius — award winning inspiration
Back in the day, this modernistic interpretation of a house of worship was quite controversial when proposed and built between 1994-1997, but the design prevailed and has since won an award from the New York chapter of American Institute of Architects and a scaled version of the design was selected to be permanently featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Today, the Chapel of St. Ignatius feels like the focal point, the spirit, of the campus — the towering bells visible from all directions. Throughout the afternoon walk I witnessed everything from construction workers eating lunch to squirrels chasing each other to a woman resting with a baby carriage in tow.
Architect Steven Holl chose “A Gathering of Different Lights” as the guiding concept for the design of the Chapel of St. Ignatius. This metaphor describes Seattle University’s mission and it also refers to St. Ignatius vision of the spiritual life as comprising many interior lights and darknesses, which he called consolations and desolations.Seattle University
Even in a pandemic, art lives all around us
A gloomy Winter day in Seattle is no match for the abundance of creativity existing in every corner of the city. Soon enough, the grounds of Seattle University will be infused with bright green leafy buds and impressionist-painting type colors bursting onto the scene around grassy spaces and a collection of buildings and art. Until then, a quiet stroll offers plenty of art to soak up along the way. May this photo gallery inspire your own art walk about town — whether that be Seattle or any other locale.