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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Walking Round Thing’: A touch of Harold Balazs in Seattle

Harold Balaz’s Walking Round Thing sits in the Seattle Center Plaza. Spokane’s Balazs was a major contributor to Seattle’s art scene during its World’s Fair in 1962. This piece joins The Feminine One and Water’s Edge, Year Round at the plaza. “Our goal is for guests visiting from around the world to remember Seattle for its exceptional artists,” Chihuly Garden and Glass Executive Director Michelle Buffano wrote on Facebook.  (Courtesy of Chihuly Garden and Glass)
By Alexandria Osborne The Spokesman-Review

A touch of Harold Balazs was unveiled at the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle at the beginning of the month.

Michelle Bufano, Chihuly Garden and Glass executive director, said when the museum opened in 2012, there was a clear opportunity to share Dale Chihuly’s and other artists’ work with the world.

“We didn’t take that lightly in understanding that it also gave us an opportunity to share the great, rich, cultural Pacific Northwest and other artists,” Bufano said.

When building the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a platform was built to add public art sculptures to the Seattle Center campus in between the museum and the Space Needle, she said.

Now, Balazs’ Walking Round Thing, a 6-foot sculpture meant for viewers to walk around, sits in the middle of the two other attractions for the millions of yearly Seattle Center visitors to experience.

Bufano said when looking for a third piece for the location, she was hoping to find an artist who could represent a connection to the Seattle Center in the 1962 World’s Fair.

Balazs had an extensive amount of work for the World’s Fair, but it is not easy to find, so a team at the Chihuly Garden and Glass worked on researching his work to uncover what he did for the campus.

“He had at least three pieces during the World’s Fair,” Bufano said.

Bufano said she was able to work with Blair Williams at the Art Spirit Gallery in Coeur d’Alene, because a lot of Balazs’ pieces were located at the gallery.

“We worked with Blair to determine which piece would be the best piece for the space and I fell in love with Walking Round Thing. I think it’s such a beautiful thing,” she said.

Williams said the Art Spirit Gallery represents different art collections and the former owners of the piece, Jay and Julie-Ann Babineau, reached out to the gallery in 2021 asking for representation.

The piece, which was sold directly out of the Babineau home in Spokane, has been in Seattle for six months.

Williams said when selling pieces such as “Walking Round Thing,” the Art Spirit Gallery ensures the work ends up in a place where it will be enjoyed for generations.

“It was so overwhelmingly apparent that this is where the piece belongs,” she said. “It’s important to note that the Seattle Center hosts 20 million visitors a year. That means 20 million visitors there will pass by this gorgeous Harold Balazs piece and potentially read that plaque and begin to learn more about him and his significance in the arts world in the Northwest.”

The piece is on a long-term loan to the city of Seattle and is owned by Center Art LLC. Bufano said the museum hired a company to move the sculpture to the city from Spokane and worked with a fabricator who did the engineering work, because the sculpture was not tall enough for everyone to see it.

The fabricator created a bronze base for the sculpture, and Bufano said the hardest part was deciding which direction the sculpture should face.

“It’s in a very prominent area,” she said. “It was difficult, because it’s in an area where you could cross it in four different paths, and we had to determine which way it would face so that people would get the best angle and really understand what it was.”

Bufano said Balazs, who died in 2017, was a big contributor to art in Washington state and made sure that it was affordable.

“Public art was super important to him, and I love that, because it brings back the fact that we took a piece and turned it into public art,” she said. “It’s a nice way for us to really honor his memory.”

Balazs’ daughter, Erica, said Walking Round Thing is one of her favorite pieces by her father, and she typically enjoys copper pieces.

“That one in particular, I like the circular form and the balance of the other parts of it. It just looked nice,” she said.

She said she recently bought a house in Marysville and expects to end up in the downtown Seattle area to see her father’s piece alongside other landmarks in the future.