ArtSEA: The downtown Seattle art collection hiding in plain sight

Showcasing Northwest art stars from Dale Chihuly to Barbara Earl Thomas, the Cedar Hall lobby welcomes the public, free of charge.

photo of an escalator next to a wall of many different small artworks

“All Along,” a cluster of 23 artworks by Northwest artists, is part of the large public collection at the new Cedar Hall complex in downtown Seattle. (Brangien Davis/Cascade PBS)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a downtown Seattle office lobby renovation — which sounds like no big whoop, except that this lobby is packed with Northwest art.

“It’s kind of under the radar,” curator Sallyann Corn told me over the phone after I recently visited and was wowed by the range of works. “It’s like a secret collection no one knows about yet.” 

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Cascade PBS’s weekly arts newsletter.

Corn is co-founder of fruitsuper, the Seattle design studio (and gallery/wine bar/home decor store) that was brought in by the US Bank Center to design a wall of art for the company’s totally revamped public lobby. The three-story, certified-LEED Gold space is now called Cedar Hall and features works by more than 30 artists, most local.

Longtime Seattleites may remember the building as the former home of FAO Schwarz, which featured a 15-foot-tall, 5,000-pound bronze teddy bear positioned in front of the Sixth Avenue and Pike Street entrance from 1995-2004. 

I never shopped at the toy store but I remember seeing movies at the Loews Cineplex in the same complex, a curious mix of stores formerly called City Centre. Until 2019, the popular post-work, pre-performance joint Palomino was housed on the third floor, and for a time the Toss’d salad stall in the first-floor atrium was my go-to lunch spot, despite its regrettable name.

Now the lobby is a rich blend of textures and tiles courtesy of local SkB Architects, who with furniture-sourcing studio objekts have turned the space into a welcoming wash of Northwest greens where visitors are encouraged to work, hang out and take in the impressive USBC public art collection.

“Artifact Series #14: Offering” (1989) by glass artist William Morris is one of the large-scale pieces on view in the Cedar Hall public facility. (USBC)

Fruitsuper was responsible for one large wall next to the escalators, a grouping of 23 artworks called All Along. “The pitch was a family portrait wall at home, going up the stairs from baby to high school to marriage,” Corn explained. But instead of a literal timeline of local art, “I saw it as a past/present/future of Pacific Northwest creatives,” she said, “with artists in different stages of their careers.”

Included in All Along’s lively mix is a quilt from Joey Veltkamp’s ferry series, a glass sculpture by Fumi Amano and a deconstructed canvas by Ko Kirk Yamahira. See also Dan Friday’s bulbous “Watcher Totem,” which presented a new challenge for the Lummi glass artist, who rarely does wall-mounted work. 

Another challenge Corn noted: “The grab zone,” she said, laughing. “The 3D pieces had to be mounted in such a way that people can’t reach out and touch them.” 

I did not attempt to touch the art, however I was the nutty person taking repeat trips up and down the escalator to see all the pieces. But no one seemed to mind. The building is still seeking retail and office tenants, so for the moment you can pretend the whole chic setting is your own expertly designed workspace.

When I was there just a few people were using the many public seating areas — one person on a laptop under RYAN! Feddersen’s lovely 2023 triptych Biologic Ethos, a graphic take on native plant species; and a small cluster of folks eating Jimmy John’s sandwiches near a 12-foot by 17-foot installation by Dale Chihuly.

A couple of the Cedar Hall pieces were commissioned for USBC’s original opening collection in 1989 (then curated by Margery Aronson), including the Chihuly and a massive sculpture by another superstar of glass, William Morris. The latter, “Artifact Series #14: Offering,” resembles the rib cage of a giant creature with a human skeleton inside it. It’s (so far) the only piece on the third floor and definitely worth heading up to see it shine.

The rest of the works on view were curated by Cortney Lederer of CNL Projects in Chicago, and include some locally made stunners: John Grade’s “Coming Soon: Swell,” an enormous hanging version of microscopic marine organisms; several glowing cut-paper works by Barbara Earl Thomas; large abstract pieces by Moses Sun and Etsuko Ichikawathe list goes on!

The new Seattle Convention Center has a killer array of local art too, but you can only see it if you're attending a convention. So I left Cedar Hall feeling excited about this approach to making art accessible, and eager to share this under-the-radar art collection with summer visitors.

Seattle Rep (seen here) and Seattle Children’s Theatre are banding together to cut costs in a difficult arts economy. (Seattle Repertory Theatre)

Arts news nuggets

Speaking of places for showcasing art … This season has seen a lot of news about local venues struggling. As the fiscal year comes to an end (and the last of the COVID funding fizzles out), Seattle arts spaces are taking various approaches on moving forward. 

Back in my Memorial Day Weekend newsletter I shared an update on urgent financial concerns at Taproot Theatre, Hugo House and Bellevue Arts Museum. Now we hear that cinema gem Scarecrow Video needs to raise $1.8 million and fast; and longstanding music club Cafe Racer is closing (but hopes to reinvent itself, yet again!).

Meanwhile, theater venues are getting creative: Seattle Rep and Seattle Children’s Theatre announced this week that the two organizations will combine cost-cutting forces by sharing box office and administrative services. In a similar vein, ACT Theatre and Seattle Shakespeare are in talks to merge the two theater companies (with Seattle Shakespeare moving performances to ACT’s Eagles Auditorium). Stay tuned.

And in great news: The sleek new Field Hall events space is up and running in Port Angeles, with a packed arts schedule to consider for your summer road trips. And the City of Seattle is opening a new filmmaking hub at Seattle Center. Called the M5 Creative Building, it’s available for short-term rental by film production crews and for related meetings, events and workshops. (Perhaps I can show you around — it’s the former KCTS/Crosscut building!)

Reminder: Black Arts Legacies: Season 3 is rounding the corner with just a couple more reveals from year’s group of creatives who’ve made a meaningful impact on the Seattle arts scene. Missed this week’s reveal? Watch and read our profile of glassblower Debora Moore — one of very few Black women working in glass — whose exquisite botanicals are uncannily lifelike.

Sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter to be among the first to discover each new artist in this year’s cohort.

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