A heart thrown under bus
To most people, they're just a stop along the line. To Joan Rudd, though, those eight Seattle bus shelters were like her children.
Seattle Times staff columnist
To most people, they're just a stop along the line.
To Joan Rudd, though, those eight Seattle bus shelters were like her children.
The three-panel art she created for them were extensions of herself, her heritage, her heart, and a reflection of the community where they stood.
So when Metro removed five of Rudd's murals without notifying her first, she felt hurt and confused.
"I feel that my moral rights as an artist have been seriously violated," she told me the other day.
She was giving me a tour of her shelters when she stopped at 15th Avenue Northeast and Northeast 98th Street, and saw it had happened again. Her mural — the entire shelter — had been removed without her knowledge.
Another piece of public art bites the dust.
Rudd, 62, started painting folk art for bus shelters in 1994, after a Metro representative visited an Artist Equity meeting and invited members to be part of its mural program. Metro would provide the plywood and paint and the artists could do what they loved, and share it with the community.
Rudd focused on her love of folk music and her Jewish heritage. She painted people and animals, children and the seasons, and the lyrics of folk songs in French, Scottish, English — and three in Yiddish "to demarcate the Jewish community in the North End."
(To see the art, go to www.joanruddsculpture.com, and click on Metro Murals.)
People told her they used the murals to study their Yiddish, or to remember their own childhoods. When the murals were removed, Rudd said, her sense of belonging was lost.
"Metro says it's sorry, but I don't believe them anymore," she said. "Why would you trust someone who said they were going to do something, and six times, they let you down?"
Dale Cummings, who heads Metro's mural program, said he appreciates Rudd's art and her devotion to it, "but the mural program is nonpermanent art," he said. "There is nothing about our bus shelters that lasts beyond eight years."
(For the record, two of Rudd's murals were up for 15 years).
So while Rudd's art may have been seen by a wide range of people, and helped to define and enhance her community, she picked the wrong medium.
"Wood rots, paint deteriorates," Cummings said. "And if a site gets graffitied repeatedly, you can't clean it off anymore."
Unless they know the artist wants the panels back, crews will just remove and recycle them.
"We have an imperfect system in place for the few people who want their mural panels back," Cummings said. "We do our best to try to coordinate that, but it's a shoestring-budget program that we manage to keep alive because people like it."
Two of Rudd's murals are still up — one at the bus shelter near the PCC on 40th Avenue Northeast in the View Ridge neighborhood, and another in front of the Volunteers of America building on 35th Avenue Northeast. Cummings said they have been "flagged" for preservation in the shelter crew's database.
"It's hard to do," Cummings said, "but we will make our best effort to retain them and not recycle them or throw them away."
Cummings is willing to have Rudd involved in future shelter projects, "but with a real understanding of what the limits of the program are."
Rudd appreciates that, but thinks he's missing her point.
"These murals meant something to people," she said. "Art crosses civilizations and time."
And it helps pass the time and keeps you company until the next bus comes.
Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or email@example.com.
She likes the oxen best.
About Nicole Brodeur
My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
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