A 45-Foot Face: SAM Unveils ‘Echo’ Of Seattle’s Future

Jul 3, 2014

Jaume Plensa's "Echo" at Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park
Jaume Plensa's "Echo" at Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park
Credit photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy Seattle Art Museum

It's a Monday afternoon in June, and Seattle Art Museum Director Kimerly Rorschach leans on a metal railing near Elliott Bay at Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Park. The sun is shining, seagulls are whirling overhead, and Rorschach is eavesdropping.

"It's fun to hear people go by and talk about it."

She’s referring to the newest permanent sculpture installed at the Park: Spanish artist Jaume Plensa's "Echo." This artwork is massive: a giant white head more than 45 feet tall.

"It looks like it's made of marble," Rorschach explains, "but it's actually made of fiberglass coated with marble dust."

Plensa used a neighborhood girl as his model, then took her placid face and elongated it, so the head we see is distorted – longer than a real human face would appear. The sculpture faces the bay and the Olympic Mountains to the west.

A parade of cyclists and pedestrians passes by, and it seems that everyone has a comment about the latest addition to the landscape. A bare-chested, middle-age man, face white with sunscreen, stops in front of Rorschach to ask what she thinks.

We both give the artwork a thumbs up, and he replies, "18 to 2." Meaning, 18 people he's queried like Plensa's creation. Two don’t.

"Echo" was donated to Seattle Art Museum, which owns and operates the Sculpture Park, by SAM board member Barney Ebsworth. He funded the installation, and the sculpture's upkeep is covered by a previously established private fund. Neither the art nor the park itself costs the taxpayers a dime.

Rorschach says she can't take credit for the park; it was built under former SAM Director Mimi Gates' leadership. But Rorschach says she’s proud of being associated with it.

“We're just part of people's lives,” she says. “They ride their bikes down here, they walk their dogs down here."

When Seattle's delayed waterfront tunnel and renovation are complete, Olympic Sculpture Park will be seamlessly integrated into the public spaces planned for the Elliott Bay shoreline.

That’s the plan, anyway. For now, if you're looking for a little outdoor art, a view of the water and the mountains, all at no cost, the Olympic Sculpture Park is open for business every day from 30 minutes before dawn to 30 minutes after sunset.