Christmas in June: Trimpin's musical gift to local kids

Guest Opinion: With his latest project, Trimpin is trading traditional museum and stage spaces for the playground.
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Trimpin with the workshop participants at the Seattle Children’s PlayGarden.

Guest Opinion: With his latest project, Trimpin is trading traditional museum and stage spaces for the playground.

Trimpin is the most interesting person I have met in decades; perhaps ever. He is the most eminent sound-sculpture artist in the world. He has been profiled twice in the New Yorker; his works appear in museums and galleries in the U.S. and abroad. He is in the same artistic league as local legends Morris Graves and Mark Tobey.

Yet, even though he has been a resident of Seattle for 34 years, few residents know of him. He works 7 days a week in a studio in the Madrona District, drives an old car, has no staff, no agent and no cell phone. Shortly after meeting him, I said, “You should have a MacArthur Genius Award.”

“I have one,” he said. 

On Tuesday, a Trimpin-designed “musical fence” will be dedicated at Colman Field's Seattle Children’s PlayGarden. "The Bongo Benny Quintet," is a five-piece permanent outdoor installation that allows children with physical or mental impairments to create music. The project is funded by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, 4Culture, the Nesholm Family Foundation and other generous private individuals.

The PlayGarden, of which I am a member of the board of directors, is a public indoor/outdoor playspace that provides these children with full access to a safe space and inclusive programs that encourage their potential. Offerings include developmentally appropriate summer camps, a year-round preschool for children ages 2-5, infant/toddler playgroups, art/music/drama workshops for children with special needs and education and advocacy in the community.

Like most members of the board of directors, I was drawn to the PlayGarden by the inspiring spirit of its founder and director, Liz Bullard. She was my son’s speech therapist at Boyer Children’s Clinic. She has been single-minded about creating a space where children with physical and cognitive disabilities can have fun. And her skill at working with these children is a delight to behold.  

Ten years after Bullard founded the PlayGarden, highlighted by a $3.2 million capital construction campaign, the venture is hugely successful. To date it is the only program of it’s kind in the country located in a public park.

We had always hoped to create a permanent art feature with which children with special needs could interact. Bullard and I were familiar with Trimpin’s work. We were amazed by "Phffft" at the Henry Gallery in 2005, and "Klompen" at the Frye Museum in 2006. “Wouldn’t it be incredible, “ we said to each other, “if we could get this guy to create something for the PlayGarden.” But we figured that a world-class artist was out of our league. 

On a whim, however, I wrote to Trimpin asking whether he would advise us on an installation that might work for our kids. He called back and said, “Sure,” and came for a visit. His advice: “How about if I work with the PlayGarden children, and let them design a musical art feature?”  We were astounded.

What followed were regular visits by Trimpin to meet our children, gain their thoughts and assess their physical and mental capacities. During the summer of 2011, he spent five successive Fridays conducting a workshop for 10 teenagers on how different musical sounds were created. The group fashioned a huge wind-brass-string-percussion instrument that was played collaboratively by all participants. A concert for parents was held on the last day. 

When two teenagers lacked the dexterity to activate sounds by striking the keyboard, Trimpin embedded a switch device inside a soft rubber ball that could be squeezed.

“The summer camp workshop was the catalyst in my learning on what is helpful to accommodate children of different abilities, and adjust accordingly,” he said.

On Tuesday evening the "Bongo Benny Quintet" will take its place among Trimpin masterpieces; a striking demonstration that children of all abilities can appreciate art and make beautiful music.

If you go: The Seattle Children's PlayGarden is located at Colman Playfield at 24th Ave South and South Grand.


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