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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How sculptures from Expo ‘74 shaped Spokane’s public art scene

A new structure has popped up in Riverfront Park that tells the story of Expo ’74 as Spokane celebrates the 50th anniversary of the world’s fair.

The abstract tower, located across the pond from the Looff Carrousel, is a replica of common wayfinding signs that were scattered throughout the fair marking each country’s exhibits.

The temporary structure highlights the anniversary celebrations in the park and tells the history of the Expo, said Matt Santangelo, program manager for the 50th celebration. He calls it the Expo kiosk.

It’s a reminder of many artistic installations the fair brought to the park. Some of these sculptures survived, others were lost or removed, but together they left a legacy on Spokane’s aesthetic.

Graphic artist Joe Ingalls adapted the Expo kiosk from historic photos of the signs.

While he tried to recreate it accurately, he designed it 20% larger to make it more prominent in the park. It is almost 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide at the base.

“The idea was to reference those sculptures rather than make an exact recreation,” Ingalls said.

The geometric style and pastel rainbow scheme were popular in the ’70s, he said, and the cubic branches acted like arrows directing people to exhibits.

“Anywhere it catches your eye, it is designed to carry you around the sculpture,” Ingalls said. “The overhanging branches invite you to stand underneath.”

Each country’s sign was decorated differently. For example, Canada’s was covered with maple leaves.

Ingalls designed the replica’s vinyl facade, which features photos of the fair and present-day Spokane. Each side describes the celebration’s five pillar themes: Environmental Stewardship, Tribal Culture, Recreation & Sport, Arts & Culture, and Expo’s Legacy. As a thank you, the kiosk lists the names of Club ’74 members – donors who gave $74 or more to the 50th Celebration.

Santangelo called the kiosk an engineering feat. Ingalls had help building it from DCI Engineers, Mandere Construction, Metals Fabrication Company, Garco Construction and Global Sign & Graphics.

After working on the project for over a year, it was surreal for Ingalls to finally see it take physical shape amid Spokane’s landmarks: the U.S. Pavilion, the Clocktower and the Carousel.

“I truly love Spokane,” Ingalls said. “The fact that I’ve left my mark on Riverfront Park is huge for me, kind of humbling.”

Today there are many iconic artworks in Riverfront Park and downtown that have nothing to do with Expo, like the giant Red Wagon, built in 1989 for Washington’s centennial; The Joy of Running Together, a diverse group of steel statues celebrating Bloomsday, built by David Govedar in 1984; or the Rotary Fountain, built by Harold Balazs and Bob Perron in 2005.

But the fair set the stage for those sculptures by creating a space for them downtown and inspiring the idea that the park could grow an outdoor art collection over time, said Karen Mobley, the former arts director for the city of Spokane.

“We wouldn’t have the sculpture walk if we didn’t have Expo,” Mobley said.

A Spokane Arts brochure lists 34 sculptures in walking distance along the Spokane River downtown.

In addition to displays from individual countries, the Expo commissioned 14 official sculptures from artists across the West.

There wasn’t one unifying theme tying them together, Mobley said, but the exhibit spread across the fairgrounds and showcased regional artists, complemented the fair’s environmental theme or encouraged interaction.

Many of the pieces were abstract because that was in vogue at the time.

“They wanted Spokane to be seen as progressive and modern,” Mobley said.

Indoors, the Washington State Pavilion, now the First Interstate Center for the Arts, included a fine art gallery, “Our Land, Our Sky, Our Water,” that showcased 146 paintings by North American artists from modern to the early 1800s.

Garbage Goat

As chair of the Expo’s visual arts advisory committee, Sister Paula Mary Turnbull, a Catholic nun and sculptor, was tasked with procuring public art for the fair.

While well-known artists were invited to participate, the art committee had limited funds and looked for sponsors for pieces, or for artists to donate or loan pieces for the fair, Mobley said.

The art selection was informal, Mobley said, and Turnbull drove around Spokane and Seattle looking for potential pieces.

“We felt strongly about the good influence of art on the public,” Turnbull told The Spokesman-Review in 2011, “and we wanted to encourage individual artists and planned for the sculptures to become a permanent part of Riverfront Park following Expo.”

Turnbull also contributed what is perhaps the most recognized sculpture from the fair: the beloved Garbage Goat. Following the fair’s environmental theme, the goat’s mouth vacuums up garbage. To this day curious passersby can feed the steel bovid their trash.

Mobley said that sense of playfulness was important for the success of the fair, which was intended to educate, but also to be a fun experience. That vision extended to many installations that followed the fair.

Turnbull died in 2018 at 97.

Totem No. 2 (Theme Stream fountain)

Thomas Adkison, as the chief architect of the Expo, redesigned the grounds from an industrial rail yard depot into the park it is today. When the rail yard was built, backfill turned Havermale Island into a peninsula. One of Adkison’s landscape redesign features was the Theme Stream, a 400-foot stair-step waterway that symbolically restored the natural flow of the south channel of the Spokane River.

The centerpiece at the top of the stream is an abstract bronze sculpture and fountain by California artist Nancy Genn.

Adkison was close friends with Genn’s stepfather, Harold Whitehouse – another prominent Spokane architect known for designing the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on the South Hill. Adkison invited Genn to submit photos of her work.

At the time she had two pieces finished and available.

The companion, Totem No. 1, is at her home in Berkley. The sculptures do not resemble each other, Genn said, but they share the same spirit.

“I don’t do realistic pieces, but more of an aesthetic suggestion, always connected with nature,” Genn said in a phone interview last week.

The flowing water gives extra emphasis to the natural forms of land and sea. Her work was influenced by Asian art and Seattle painter Mark Tobey.

“It has a quietness about it, a completion, not noisy, not demanding,” she said.

Unfortunately, funds dried up and the Expo was not able to pay Genn for the commission. But by that point Genn was already excited about the idea, so she went ahead and donated the piece.

Although she was unable to attend the Expo, she spent about a week in Spokane beforehand to install the sculpture. She recalls the distinct excitement that was in the air as the small city prepared to host the world.

“It was a great pleasure and an honor to have my work there,” she said.

At 94, Genn is still an active artist. She recently had paintings shown at the David Richard Gallery in New York City and her sculpture work is part of a group show at Modern Art West gallery in Sonoma, California, on aesthetic pluralism in 1950s San Francisco.

Aluminum Fountain

George Tsutakawa was a famous Seattle artist whose fountains have splashed across the United States and Japan.

His 20-foot aluminum fountain sculpture was built at the southwest corner of the Washington State Pavilion. The $100,000 sculpture was sponsored by donations from the Aluminum Company of America, Reynolds Metals Co. and Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corp.

Tsutakawa died in 1997.

The Lantern

Harold Balazs, whose work is ubiquitous throughout Spokane, was just as prominent at the fair.

Anonymous donors paid for his 40-foot concrete tower with his distinctive interlocking squiggly lines at the northwest corner of the Washington State Pavilion .

Though Balazs never titled the sculpture, it’s often called the “Lantern” because it was lit from within, similar to decorative lanterns found in Japanese temples and gardens.

Balazs told The Spokesman-Review when it was finished that the “nonobjective” work was a “juxtaposition of disparate elements in a cultural context” related to the gathering of nations at the fair.

Linda Strong, volunteer coordinator for the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, who co-leads a Balazs sculpture walking tour, shares the story that Balazs fell and injured his back during construction, then took up watercolor while he recovered.

“He kept producing art whatever he was doing,” Strong said.

Hidden at the top the tower is Balazs’ favorite slogan “Transcend the Bullshit.”

The walking tour is in conjunction with “Harold Balazs: Leaving Marks,” an exhibition at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture until June 2.

The MAC’s exhibit “It Happened Here: Expo ’74 Fifty Years After” also features one of the crystal bowls Balazs crafted as gifts to Expo dignitaries. The show opened this weekend and runs through January.

Balazs died in 2017.

Moon Crater

Underneath Balazs’ tower on the Centennial Trail is a rounded square-shaped bronze sculpture with rough textures that was relocated from its original placement near the Theme Stream.

Glen Michaels, who was born in Spokane, but spent most of his career in Michigan made the sculpture.

Michaels told The Spokesman-Review when it debuted that he took inspiration from a moon rock he had recently seen on display and from his memories of watching whirlpools in the Spokane River.

“The piece is designed to take on the mood of Spokane, the mood of the basalt rock here,” he said.

Michaels died in 2020.

Dinosaur Bone

Removed from the park in 2011 after deterioration and safety concerns, the untitled sculpture often called “the dinosaur bone” was reinstalled in the park in 2020 as part of the park renovations and placed near the Ice Age Floods playground north of the river.

Charles W. Smith, a University of Washington art professor, intended for children to play and climb on the sculpture.

“Nothing,” he told a Spokane Daily Chronicle reporter who asked what it represented. “It can be anything a child wants it to be. Rather than a camel or a horse, it can be many things.”

Smith died in 2009.

Totem Pole

Beyond the officially commissioned sculptures, many countries brought their own art installations. One example that remains is the totem pole on snxw meneɂ island – formerly Canada Island.

As a practical demonstration during the fair, Joe David, a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribe of Vancouver Island, carved the 25-foot totem pole in the British Columbia Pavilion.

The totem pole depicts David’s three tribal names and symbolizes a killer whale transforming into a great wolf, according to a 1974 Spokesman-Review article. After it was complete, members of the Nootka Nation held an ancient tribal ceremony on the island to install it.

A second totem pole with an eagle on top was carved out of an old telephone pole a few years later during the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council’s Bighorn Outdoor Adventure Show and installed on the island. It was removed in 2019.

The Butterflies

Similar to the wayfinding markers, five giant butterflies with fabric wings marked the entrances to the expo park. Over the years the butterflies fell apart, were lost or neglected in storage until a community effort led to one of them – the Lilac Butterfly – to be restored in 2019 near the dinosaur bone. The butterfly flutters like a kite around the pole in wind.

A winter storm knocked the steel-frame structure over in early 2021, but the parks department restored it again last fall.

Australian Sundial

When the fair closed, Australia commissioned Sister Turnbull to design another sculpture as a gift to Spokane. She built a functioning sundial on the former site of Australia’s pavilion on the northeast corner of Havermale Island. The 7-foot bronze column is carved with the shapes of Australian fauna and flora including kangaroos, koalas and eucalyptus. The clock is meant to approximate the sun’s movements between the equinoxes through the summer solstice.

The monument was dedicated in 1976, on the two-year anniversary of Australia’s “national day” at Expo.

Missing pieces

Of the 14 officially commissioned sculptures, eight have been removed. Some of them were made out of wood and would have been hard to preserve.

Mobley said a lot of the ideas for the fair were created as ephemeral amusements, not meant to last.

Another Balazs sculpture that made an appearance at the fair was destroyed in an act of vandalism a year and a half ago.

The circular copper sculpture was commissioned by Washington Mutual Savings Bank for its new high rise building downtown, but was first loaned to the fair where it appeared next to the Energy Pavilion before it was installed in front of what is now Chase Bank on Howard Street.

At about 1 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2022, security footage shows a man in a white hoodie rocking the sculpture back and forth until knocking it off its pedestal onto the sidewalk. Spokane police tracked the suspect’s movements through security cameras downtown before losing sight of him walking by the downtown Spokane Public Library.

The suspect was never identified.

Gordon Hester, the building manager, said that the hollow sculpture was severely bent and split at the seam. Estimates to repair it were over $100,000.

“It is truly very sad as it was an amazing one of a kind art piece that has been downtown at the building for almost 50 years,” Hester said.

The property owner STG Group, a real estate investment company based in California, has not decided what to do with sculpture’s remains.

“It does bring immense joy and amusement to people, but also, stuff happens,” Mobley said. She noted that recent property damage downtown isn’t limited to art.

Mobley said it is easy to take for granted all the art downtown when living with it for so long, but it is important to remember the vision that started the collection.

“This whole thing built up as a result of Expo ’74,” Mobley said. “And we keep adding on.”

James Hanlon's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.