“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.” - William Blake
By Kris Parfitt
– The Capitol Hill Times -
“Housing or day care should be more than just a roof over somebody’s head. Dismal, dreary spaces are oppressive. Light and connections with the outside make us feel better. We believe everybody deserves them. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.” – Jan Gleason
Gleason, an award winning Seattle architect who died in 2010 from cancer, will be honored with a memorial sculpture to be unveiled this month on Capitol Hill.
An advocate for children’s learning and living spaces, Gleason dedicated years of her professional career to social justice through architecture, social work, community service and child advocacy. She commonly referred to herself as a “social worker in three dimensions.”
Gleason designed over 50 childcare centers and became a national authority on developing standards for childcare design. A few of her accomplished child centers include Catholic Community Services, Fred Hutchinson, Harborview Medical Center, Neighborhood House and the Seattle Times.
An avid world traveler, Jan orchestrated her life so that at least once a year she and her domestic partner Ron Hand left Seattle to explore a distant part of the planet. She brought back her observations and commitment to ensure that quality and aesthetic architecture was available, accessible and affordable to everyone.
As the Executive Director of Environmental Works, a Seattle-based community design center established in 1970 on Capitol Hill, she led many community projects that brought this philosophy to existence. Her background was in social work and she had an impressive aptitude for architecture – a rare but impactful combination. She often commented on the design challenge to meet the needs of a client, ensure useful yet empowering spaces while efficiently utilizing public funds.
“We still try to do something more, look for just one or two places in each project where we can make something sparkle. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to cost money – it can be more natural light or the interplay of different materials.”
It is fitting then that Gleason’s memorial sculpture will be outside, in the garden behind the office where she worked for 11 years creating spaces of natural light that used the interplay of different materials. The sculpture, designed in tandem by the nationally acclaimed community artist Mari Gardner-Euflauzino and children artists from Coyote Central, is a mixed medium of stainless steel and mosaic, and represents the building blocks of Gleason’s life.
Also a world traveler, Gardner-Euflauzino has found that art is the basis of community, especially when working with children. This is her second art piece with Environmental Works and her first with Coyote Central. With a Masters of Arts from the Maryland Institute of Art, she has installed commissioned community art pieces on the east coast and as far south as Brazil.
In an interview with The Capitol Hill Times, Gardner-Euflauzino expressed her passion and interest about community art. “Art, especially mosaic art, is an amazing medium as a community builder. Little pieces coming together to make a scene that reflects the community,” she said.
The little pieces that have come together for Gleason’s memorial sculpture have resulted in an extraordinary community effort. Gardner-Euflauzino partnered with Coyote Central, a non-profit art organization that helps build confidence and competence in adolescents through art, to create Gleason’s memorial.
“Gleason’s impact on the community and children is admirable and everyone involved in the project wanted to somehow capture her essence,” Gardner-Euflauzino said. “The Coyote Central kids and I sat down with Jan’s closest colleagues and friends and they started talking, telling stories about her, her life, what she did, her likes and dislikes.” Gardner-Euflauzino and the Coyote Central kids took notes and brainstormed the form and function of the sculpture. “It’s really amazing how inspired they were by the stories about this woman.”
“The whole process was extremely cathartic for us. I think we may have overwhelmed the kids,” said Roger Tucker, an architect with Environmental Works who worked with Jan for over two decades. He remembered the meeting fondly, “If they had just read about Jan it wouldn’t have had the same impact as sharing in person.”
Tucker moved to Seattle in 1986 and was referred to Jan through another architect. “We started working together not too long after we met,” he said. “She was a great mentor for people and was very compassionate about young people and young architects, letting them do their own thing while building skills.” It is fitting then, that Coyote Central, an inspiring art center for children 10 to 14 is involved.
The organization, founded in 1986, is dedicated to creativity in action for adolescents, letting them create their own thing under the mentorship of experts who provide guidance for skill building and supporting the uniqueness of each child.
“It is fantastic that it was the kids who created this sculpture for Jan, because she loved working with children,” expressed Gardner-Euflauzino. “They came up with the idea for interactive building blocks, with each face of the block describing through mosaic art Jan’s life and interests. They saw Jan as a community builder, architect and advocate. The result represents Jan through the eyes of the community. It’s really beautiful.”
“We wanted to do a memorial that recognized her efforts in the community and Environmental Works,” Tucker continued. “Our first idea was to have some kind of memorial in our community conference room, but that idea evolved to having something outside in the park behind Fire Station 7.” Fire Station 7, on 15th Avenue, was the seventh firehouse to be built in Seattle. Its destruction was saved by the combined efforts of the Country Doctor, the Capitol Hill Housing and Environmental Works in the early 1970′s. While Country Doctor and the CHH have since moved elsewhere, Environmental Works still resides on the second floor, but all three still co-own the building and make up the Fire Station 7 Association.
The Fire Station 7 Association approved the location of the structure and the partnership with Coyote Center. CHH had worked with Coyote Central on the Broadway Crossing project and loved the result. The Association was familiar with Gardner-Euflauzino’s work and was excited to learn she would be the resident artist working with the kids. “Mari had worked with us on an art project associated with the Catholic Housing Center years ago that turned out great,” Tucker said.
“Jan was positive about the cancer when she was diagnosed,” Tucker remarked. “She and Hall were optimistic in thinking they were going to beat it. However, it had been diagnosed late and when they realized their odds were bad, they made her as comfortable as possible.” She was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her bones in late fall of 2009 and passed away in early winter of 2010. “She remained upbeat until the end.” Tucker remembered.
“We are excited about the upcoming celebration for Jan and unveiling the sculpture. We are excited about where it will be located, who made it, that it’s under a tree, outside and accessible to the community, that is it interactive, dynamic and designed by kids. Every aspect of it being a community project just reflects the true nature of Jan. It’s perfect.”
A celebration in Gleason’s honor will be held in the garden behind Fire Station 7 where the sculpture, currently under wraps, will be unveiled. The public is invited to attend on Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. behind Fire Station 7 on the corner of 15th Ave. East and East Harrison Street.
“Re-using existing structures is very sustainable. It allows us to create something that provides delight out of a very ordinary object.” – Jan Gleason, 1948 – 2010.