Monuments, historic sites and pieces of public art are ordinarily readily accessible and easily visible by the public, but not always. There’s one in Spokane that’s a little hard to come across unless you’re specifically looking for it.
It’s a piece of public art – the Red Brick Hose at the Spokane Fire Training Center at 1618 N. Rebecca Street. Just past the east side of Spokane Community College, it stands on the north side of the north building in the fire training complex. Sponsored by the Spokane Arts Commission and Spokane Fire Department, it was constructed in 2003-’04 for just under $20,000 when the new building was being built there.
A 7-foot diameter work approximately 4 1/2 feet tall, from a distance it looks like a coiled snake. Up close, it’s clearly a coiled hose, created through an intricate masonry process by artists Kurt Madison and Deke Cloyd.
“Recognizing that this was something for the fire department, we went through a list of imagery and wanted to do something identifiable, something properly reverential but without being overly memorializing,” said Madison, a jeweler, calligrapher, painter, sculptor and mason who also teaches art at Spokane Falls Community College.
“And while we wanted to be realistic, we are aware that fire hoses don’t lie like that; they don’t coil like garden hoses. Still it was a labor of love and of heart.”
Getting the project done was a feat in itself. The artists downsized their original design to accommodate the budget and settled on brick as their medium. They used 3,500 bricks, secured from Mutual Materials in Mica before they were kiln fired. The artists wrapped the raw bricks in plastic and styrofoam sheeting so they could more accurately be carved into the proper shapes called for in their design plan.
“We then marked the bricks like puzzle pieces, packed them carefully and then had them fired in Mica,” Madison said. “When we got them back, we arranged them again and began laying brick.”
Madison had done some lime mortar work on stone walls in Scotland, but he was far from being a mason when the pair got started. Plans for a mason to do the final work didn’t fit into the budget, so Madison and Cloyd rolled up their sleeves and figured it out themselves.
Another problem was that they began laying brick at the end of October and worked through March to get the work done. Mortar needs to stay above 35-40 degrees not to freeze, Madison said, so they built scaffolding around and over the project.
“Then we created something of a yurt with three or four layers of plastic to encase it,” he noted. At night a heater was used so as not to ruin the day’s work.
Although the interior core consists of concrete blocks, the exterior is three bricks deep to maintain the carving and shape. There’s a drain at the top of the piece so water doesn’t puddle and potentially destroy the brick.
“We think well of our firefighters,” Madison said, “so we hope this work honors them properly.”
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