Conserving a Moment at Volunteer Park
I look forward to Sunday afternoons as a great opportunity to explore. There is enough in just Seattle alone to fill a Sunday so I made it a point a couple months ago to check out a park full of activities to take part in. I discovered it through a conversation with my boss Marilyn. We had a project site to visit that was in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and decided to make a quick detour before heading back to the office.
Volunteer park has a long history. Starting in 1876 when the city of Seattle purchased the site, it was initially a graveyard. In 1903 it was re-designed by the Olmsted brothers to become a more accessible landscape for residents and visitors to use. The firm, based out of Massachusetts, would be responsible for a city wide park plan that would include the creation of parks like Discovery, Greenlake, Hiawatha Playground, and Washington Park & Arboretum. 4 years later in 1907 the signature water tower was built, in 1912 the botanical conservatory, and in 1933 the Seattle Art Museum opened, which was re-dedicated as the Seattle Asian Art Museum in 1994.
Thanks to that little detour and with this rich history in my mind, I made the following Sunday a day to take a walk through the century plus old park and savor its history and charm.
The 1907 tower is accessible to the public with two entrances, thin (but safe) metal winding staircases bring you to the top to breathtaking views. As you walk the circle platform, windows covered in thick Victorian-esque bars give you a beautiful view of the sound and the neighborhoods of Seattle. Between the windows are historical information and pictures hung for your edification of the park and the design work of the principle architect, John C. Olmsted. I loved reading of his opinion of Seattle's landscape.
"Seattle possesses extraordinary landscape advantages in having a great abundance and variety of water views and views of wooden hills and distant mountains and snow capped peaks. It also possesses...some valuable remains of the original evergreen forests which covered the whole country, and which...have a very dense and beautiful undergrowth."
Something about looking upon a wilderness and envisioning a landscape cultivated to regard nature and build community is really fascinating. Volunteer park was part of a much wider goal of bridging areas of Seattle with a 20 mile greensward of parks and boulevards. In design there is a delicate balance between constructing environments that are functional for people but not at the cost of the natural environment around it. Olmsted was mindful of the usability of these parks and respected the indigenous life they were meant to sustain. Volunteer park is no exception.
This was the first time I had ever been to a conservatory. My list of firsts is too long and I was happy to mark this one as completed. You will find the building at the end of a long driveway lined with tall trees and a great expanse of grass on both sides. The long beautiful white building, inspired by the classic Victorian style conservatories in Europe, is a lovely sight. The multitude of windows let in that much appreciated natural light and provide a foggy humid silhouette of the hundreds of species of plants bending and weaving with each other. I couldn't recommend it more, visiting the conservatory. Even if plants aren't the most exciting thing for you, the visual sight alone is worth the trip. It contains 5 houses, the Palm House, Seasonal Display House, Cactus House, Fern House, and Bromeliad House. Did you know that all cacti are succulents, but not all succulents are cacti?? Fun fact! Also it's a great place for a backdrop to amazing photos, I think I accidentally photobombed at least two shoots.
Seattle Asian Art Museum
It is an impressive building with an Art Deco facade that draws your eye as soon as you enter the park. Since 1994 it has been home to collections of beautiful art spanning centuries from China, Japan, India, Korea, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, the Philippines, and Vietnam. At the time of my visit I was particularly taken by the right wing where mostly the modern art was held. Photos weren't allowed, but I wish I could have taken just one. If I had to choose, it would have been of this animated video of a nude man standing with his back to the viewer. All along his body are these flowers in full bloom. Slowly, the petals begin to fall from his skin and softly land on the floor. Occasionally a black crow or koy fish moved across his back, fluid and smooth, as the vibrant flowers continue to fall. He was a living canvas with living art that moved naturally across his body. Toward the end of the video, his limbs began to fall, first a finger, then an arm, the torso, and finally the head. His body now lying upon the ground in pieces, completely doll like, has left the flowers floating in place until a swoop of crows engulfs the entire screen into black.
Truly amazing. The artist's name is Ayako Tabata otherwise known as Tabaimo. I snooped the internet for an image (just had to). Here it is below.
It was a gratifying experience to visit Volunteer park and I am motivated to check out the other parks in Seattle that I have yet to visit and re-visit those that I haven't spent time in awhile. If I can make it a point to pick a neighborhood, find a park, and take a walk, I know it will be worthwhile because there is something truly revitalizing about being in nature. It's nothing new to hear, but always good to hear. Nature is calling.
The information I found on Olmsted Brothers and Seattle's park history are here below: Check it out!