Skip to main content

Meet the artists making comics in Seattle’s historic drawbridges

Published on October 1, 2020

Looking northeast at the University Bridge from the taller Ship Canal Bridge, both of which cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle.
Looking northeast at the University Bridge from the taller Ship Canal Bridge, both of which cross the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. Image Credit: SounderBruce (CC ASA 4.0)

Seattle is home to more than a hundred bridges, four of which are historic bascule bridges spanning the Lake Washington Ship Canal — the massive earthmoving project that took from 1911 to 1917. Also known as drawbridges, the Montlake, University, Fremont and Ballard crossings are operated by bridgetenders who work in the towers and lift the double leaves to let boats pass underneath.

But starting this month, two empty towers will be occupied by two artists in residence: E.T. Russian at the University Bridge and Roger Fernandes at the Fremont Bridge. Instead of operating the spans, the Seattle artists will be responsible for exploring the history and significance of the bridges, and translating that experience into new artistic work.

“We ask the artists to be inspired by [the bridges],” says Maija McKnight, the Office of Arts and Culture project manager, who is guiding this year’s residency. “They’re on site to see them open and close and to think about the roles bridges play.”

The bridge residency is a joint program of Office of Arts and Culture and the Seattle Department of Transportation. Each resident is awarded three months of studio time in the tower (it is not a residential space) and $10,000. The first resident was muralist Kristen Ramirez, who in 2009 created a voicemail line where people could share memories of the Fremont bridge. She then made the recordings into an audio collage and broadcast it over bridge speakers.

On a recent Sunday, Russian (who uses they/them pronouns) was getting situated at the University Bridge.

Pulling out their keys to the tower, Russian, 42, mentions that the building isn’t compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and begins ascending the narrow red staircase that leads to an 11-by-19-foot room with a 360-degree view of the surrounding water: Portage Bay to the east and Lake Union to the west. The room has a bathroom and seven windows, one with an air conditioning unit. The location is perfect for Russian, who works most of the week at the nearby University of Washington Medical Center as a physical therapist.

“I’m really excited,” Russian says, as cyclists speed by. “The University Bridge is a drawbridge, so it’s very dynamic, tons of people walk and run across the bridge every day, plus all the boats going by underneath —” then a boat’s air horn interrupts them.


Continue reading at Crosscut.

Originally written by Agueda Pacheco Flores for Crosscut.  
Search by categories

Twitter Feed