Olympia artist's tribute to love debuts on 9/11

OlympianSeptember 12, 2013 

Americans across the country paid tribute in many unique and personal ways Wednesday to the some 3,000 people who lost their lives in the terrorist attack Sept. 11, 2001.

One would be hard-pressed to find a more moving and elegant commemoration than the one that took place over the noon hour on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia.

Wednesday marked the unveiling of a powerful glass and stainless steel sculpture designed by Ross Matteson, the Olympia area community activist who just happens to be an accomplished artist, too.

Trust me, he had a lot of help bringing the project to fruition. The program brochure for the five-day debut  of “The Structure of Love is Indestructible” at the Harbor House at Percival Landing lists 50 businesses, artists, musicians and supporters who pitched in with materials, labor and money to complete and celebrate the sculpture.

For the record, my name is listed in the brochure, simply because I’ve written about the project and agreed to speak for a few minutes around noon Friday about how I see my journalistic role in the community these days, shedding light on South Sound’s special people, places, current events and history.

The two, 10-foot glass towers feature more than 800 ascending doves etched by Shane and Macy Jewell of Reflections Custom Etching. The towers are mounted on a polished stainless steel base for a look that is both imposing and inviting. Look up and see the towers reaching for the sky. Look down and see the towers reflecting back off a gleaming base transformed into an inverted sky.

“Glass can suggest a fragile material, but in this sculpture it also represents light, inspiration and spiritual strength,” Matteson said to the 75 or so people who gathered under sunny skies for the noon ceremony outside Harbor House. “The Structure of Love,” to me, means “The Intelligence of Love.” And the intelligence of love can never be destroyed.”

While the sculpture clearly has a connection to 9/11, the towers symbolize the good in all victims of all tragedies, whether they be fallen soldiers in Afghanistan or children gassed to death in Syria. The sculpture speaks not of grief and loss and victims, but of hope and love and life. When I look at the sculpture, I can’t help but think of the Beatles song: “All you Need Is Love.”

Matteson and his many friends and collaborators share a common belief that accenting the good in people can lead to creative problem-solving and healing.

“Ross, through his art, gives us an opportunity to pick a higher thought — not of victims and survivors,” said Tim Walker, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Washington National Guard. “Love and kindness are felt internationally with no boundaries.”

Stephen Langer is an Olympia City Council member and clinical psychologist who works with trauma victims all over the world, helping them find a way forward.

“Ross’s sculpture is about finding that hope, building those human connections,” Langer said.

A strong contingent of South Sound firefighters were on hand at the public event Wednesday, which was sponsored in part by the Washington State Council of Firefighters.

“We know Ross has a slightly different message, but this is a fitting tribute,” noted Olympia Fire Department Lt. Mike Simmons. “We’ll continue to do something to remember them (the fallen first responders) on this day forever.”

Much work went on behind the scenes to assemble the sculpture. The eight tower walls weigh a combined 880 pounds and the sturdy steel base tops the scales at 600 pounds. It took Matteson and his helpers all night Tuesday to assemble the sculpture inside the Harbor House.

“It’s the shiniest thing I’ve ever worked on,” said Mike Rathke, a steel fabricator who built the steel base.

The Wednesday program also featured three Olympia High School students — Sarah Smith (violin), Belinda So (violin) and Danzhu Zhou (piano), performing a tribute to 9/11 titled “New World” by Michael McLean. They played beautifully a piece that begins with a somber tone, but ends with an upbeat tempo.

“I first heard it one year after 9/11,” recalled Olympia High School music director Charles Schooler. “ “It grabbed me like nothing I’ve ever heard.”

Just before Harbor House opened to the public, Matteson, who is also a falconer, released 40 of us homing pigeons. They fluttered into the deep blue sky over lower Budd Inlet, then beat a path to their westside Olympia home.

The sculpture was well-received by the public as dozens of people slowly circled it, looking up and looking down.

“It’s so uplifting,” said Mark Knutson of Olympia.

With its high, soaring ceiling, Harbor House looks like it was built to showcase the sculpture. Check it out. The public debut of “The Structure of Love” runs 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Sunday. For a full schedule of events, visit www.structureoflove.com.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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