In the mid 1990’s, a sculpture by renowned African American artist, James Washington, Jr., was installed at the MidTown Center at 23rd & Union. The cover photo shows the artist sitting on the edge of the fountain, which at that time depicted salmon on their arduous return and was aptly named The Fountain of Triumph. Water actually flowed in the fountain then, but it sorely needs both repairs and restoration now. And the bigger concern is what will happen to it in the sale of the property to a new developer?
How widely known is the work of this important artist? One can see his sculptures many places in town: one at the Odessa Brown Clinic (to the right of the entrance, nestled in the shrubbery) and one at the Seattle Center’s Playhouse (now the Cornish Playhouse.) It is located in the garden area in the lower patio level of the theater entrance. Unfortunately, his death occurred close to that of Jacob Lawrence, another African-American artist with more of an international reputation; this probably put Washington, his life and his work, in the shadow of his more famous contemporary.
Washington and his wife, Janie, were mentors to artists and opened their studio to others during their lifetime. Upon their deaths, the home at 1816 26th Ave. became the Washington Foundation Museum and their mentoring was continued by creating an artist in residence program, providing a place for artists to work and live.
The fountain belongs to the Bangasser family and Tom Bangasser has said he hopes it can remain in the Central Area. We do too, although some may wonder when they look at it now: the colors have faded and it has not been a functioning fountain for quite some time. It is often the depository for litter from passers-by, a sad fate for a work of art by an important Seattle artist. A small group of us wants to keep an eye on this work of art to make sure it doesn’t disappear in the many changes at the 23rd & Union intersection and to try to get a larger organization to take on the repair, renovation and possible removal to another site, if that becomes necessary.
~Diane Snell with the help of Susan Platt, Art Critic, and Carolyn Walden, who has been known as the Fountain Lady in the past.