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June 8, 2014 at 6:08 PM

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Northwest Wanderings | Artist John Grade builds "Middle Fork"


Eighty-feet up in the tree canopy near North Bend, John Grade, left, Sam Kuniholm and Nicholas Dankers make a mold of the Western hemlock's trunk for a sculpture Grade is creating called "Middle Fork."

Eight stories up in the canopy of an old-growth Western hemlock, artist John Grade is suspended in a harness as he covers the tree trunk with heavy-gauge aluminum foil that's plastered over to form a mold.

Joining him is Nicholas Dankers, a certified arborist without whom nobody gets off the ground, and an assistant, Sam Kuniholm. The tree is on private land near North Bend.

Grade doesn't do things small or simply.

It'll take 10 days to cover 100 feet of the trunk, let the mold dry, then cut it off in sections.

The dried sections are brought to a South Lake Union art space where more than 540,000 small cedar pieces will cover the mold and become the sculpture.

This piece, called "Middle Fork," after the nearby Snoqualmie River, will weigh 500 pounds and be suspended horizontally, allowing it to move a bit. People can look into and walk between sections.

It's only a few blocks from the main hall of the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) where "Wawona," Grade's repurposing of the salvaged fir timbers of the old sailing ship's hull, is installed. That 64-foot piece dominates that space vertically.

Through the lattice of "Middle Fork," Grade says, "imagine a stippling of light."

He wants the viewer to experience "something to their body. Have a visceral thing with this."

The entire process of "Middle Fork's" creation will take six months.

He says people ask what it is. He answers, this is it, "everyone understands this is a tree."

The finished piece will inaugurate the MadArt gallery's space at 325 Westlake Ave. N. in January.


Artist John Grade works on the inside of the trunk of his sculpture. On the exterior is a lattice of thousands of pieces of cedar glued together around the mold.

For more photos, visit the gallery.

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