Michael Harthorne
Kristen Ramirez looks out at the view atop the Fremont Bridge tower, which she now calls her art studio. Ramirez was chosen by the city to create a $20,000 piece of public art inspired by the bridge and the public's experience with it. CLICK PHOTO FOR ANOTHER VIEW OF THE BRIDGE.

Ballard artist gathers inspiration from Fremont Bridge for public art

Sitting above the “center of the universe," Ballard resident Kristen Ramirez has become the Rapunzel of Fremont.

Perched in the northeast Fremont Bridge tower, she experiences the happenings of the neighborhood in what she now calls her art studio.

Opposite from Rapunzel’s captive state, Ramirez was chosen by Seattle's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs to serve as the artist-in-residence in the tower this summer to create a $20,000 public art piece.

“In terms of how I got this project it was a competitive process,” she said. “They selected a certain number of finalists and we all had to interview. They didn’t want to know what you would do, they wanted to know what you’ve done in the past, what kind of artist you are and what you’re interested in.”

After major upgrades to the bridge were completed last fall, the city started its search to fill an artist residency spot.

Ramirez, 38, who left her northern California roots seven years ago to earn a master’s in fine arts in printmaking at the University of Washington, said she ended up falling in love with Seattle and hasn't been home since.

“I swallowed the pill, fell in love, got a dog, bought a house and had a baby,” she said.

She works out of her at-home studio a few houses down from Ballard Corners Park and also teaches art to freshmen at Cornish College and Edmonds Community College.

“I’ve been teaching (art) for almost 20 years, so I teach and I have a studio practice in my house, and as far as art making, I do a lot of print making, silk screening, letter press, painting, installation and more public work,” she said.

Her public works of art in Seattle include a large mural downtown on Western and Union of a printed billboard that was finished last year. For the piece, Ramirez created a small scale painting of an urban landscape that depicted the history of Seattle.

“It was blown up and was up for six months, that was kind of a big deal for me,” she said.

Last summer, Ramirez connected with Urban Artworks in creating a large mural along the Sound Transit Corridor in SODO that was 120 feet by 30 feet; It was the biggest piece she had ever done. She employed the help of 12 children who helped paint the mural.

For another project, Ramirez printed and sent out 500 postcards; on one side a map of Seattle, and the reverse side asked, “What do you know about Seattle?”

During her interview process with the city for the Fremont Bridge position, Ramirez said they were very interested in her public works of art and especially the postcard project because she had used postage mail to engage people.

“My sense was that they wanted to support an emerging artist (...) all my work thematically is always about place, identity and in terms of place you live in and capturing your environment,” she said.

Two years ago, Ramirez paid homage to Ballard through a project that was displayed in Portalis Winebar on Ballard Avenue. It was a series of paintings about Ballard, where she said she did a lot of walking and taking pictures of old Ballard icons.

“Not thinking that they were things that would go away, like the Sunset Bowl, it turns out that its this archive of things that have disappeared,” Ramirez said.

Like the streets of her hometown San Francisco, Ramirez said she loves the density and walkability of the city, and that’s what she loves about Ballard.

As she is still in the preliminary creative process for the Fremont project, Ramirez said she doesn’t yet know what the focus of the piece will be, but that she is letting the space inspire and influence her ideas.

“As soon as I got into this space, I got to thinking that collecting sounds are interesting because it’s noisy in here, everybody has some story about this bridge and there’s a lot of different ways to experience it,” she said.

Whether by boat, on foot, on bicycle, in a car and even as a bridge operator, Ramirez recognizes that everyone has their own experience with the bridge.

Ramirez said her project will definitely involve the public, some sort of gathering for the people, will be on the bridge and involve sound.

She's asking the public to share with her their stories, sounds or memories of the Fremont Bridge so she might incorporate it into her art.

Stories, sounds, myths and memories can be sent in by calling and leaving a message, 455-9983.

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