John Grade’s ‘Middle Fork’ at MadArt Space


MadArt Space, a recently opened street-level studio and workspace at the heart of Seattle’s growing South Lake Union neighborhood, is focused on the artistic process rather than final product. Not only will the spacious site provide ample room for the creation of large-scale, often unorthodox artwork, but it also offers opportunities for the area’s many passersby to get a sneak peek at the action. Who better to inaugurate MadArt Space than the Seattle-based sculptor John Grade, who has made it a point to usher artwork from the boondocks to traditional institutions, and back again.


Middle Fork Bottom 50 feet of the cast on the tree.

Grade’s Middle Fork, currently underway at MadArt Space, aims to poetically recreate a hundred-foot high tree from North Bend (an area made famous by David Lynch‘sserial drama Twin Peaks),immediately adjacent to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie river.

Over the course of ten days in the woods, Grade made a plaster cast of the base, trunk and body of the tree, transferring individual sections from the boughs to the ground through use of an elaborate pulley system. Back at MadArt Space, these plaster casts are being used as the base on which to build a seamless wood skin that consists of more than half a million stacked pieces of old-growth cedar. The result is a sprawling mass that suggests controlled chaos, both natural and creative. And it extends far beyond the actual studio.Grade has put out a call to volunteers—artists, students, and South Lake Union neighbors—all of whom are working in tandem to introduce a wallop of nature into the urban core.

Once completed Middle Fork will be suspended horizontally and at eye-level from MadArt Space’s ceiling. It’s not the first time Grade has invited audiences to catch a historic relic from an unexpected angle. Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is home to Grade’s Wawona. This 56-foot high sculpture created from the salvaged wood of the historic sailing vessels’ hull now hangs vertically in the museum’s grand atrium.

Middle Fork won’t be a literal representation. Grade is creating a second, smaller cast of the tree (but by no means small at 35-feet), which will be attached to the hundred-foot section to create its namesake “fork.” On September 1, this more modest section will debut at the Art Museum at the University of Wyoming then continue on two-year long tour of the United States. Eventually, however, Middle Fork will be laid to rest at the base of its original North Wood tree, where over a couple of decades it will sink back into the earth. Nothing lasts forever. So be it. But in the meanwhile Grade’s work offers visitors a rare chance to celebrate both (natural) history in the making and a sublime return to form.

By Suzanne Beal

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