Judith and Daniel Caldwell may very well be the two public artists whose work you know best — even if you don’t know you know them. You’ll find their artwork installed throughout the Northwest in places both prominent and obscure. From Sea-Tac International Airport, Seattle Center, and the Everett Station to schools across the state and even the Edmonds Stages of History Self-Guided Walking Tour, the Caldwells shape our landscape and enhance our experiences of community spaces through their public art installations.
You and your luggage have probably cruised over the more than 300 bronze fish swimming through Sea-Tac Airport’s Concourse B, embedded in the terrazzo floor. This is the work of Judith and Daniel Caldwell. The whimsical installation represents more than fifty different native and transplanted fresh water and anadromous species . Anadromous fish are born in fresh water, spend most of their lives in the sea, then return to fresh water to spawn. With so many people coming and going, yet sharing the airport as common ground, it’s a fitting work of art for an airport, according to Judith Caldwell.
The Caldwells don’t seem to worry too much about getting credit for their artwork. Though they make their living by producing public art, the motivation for their work is deeply altruistic. “I never cared about having anyone know one way or the other (who made it) just as long as people were delighted by the artwork,” Judith said. “That’s really the only thing that mattered.”
They devote intense thought to every single project they take on, fiercely investigating all angles before beginning the design process. Bookshelves stocked with endless research fill their Beverly Park studio and foundry. Judith particularly enjoys the challenges of research and is fascinated by the historical and modern stories of a region. She traces how both nature and humans impact a place.
As she ruminates on her findings, her subconscious gets to work and as if by magic, offers up a design idea.
“I’ll be trying to take a nap and all of sudden it pops out,” Judith said with a smile. “You just can’t ever stop believing that it’s going to work. (The idea) changes and evolves as time goes on, but the seed comes out of the interaction between the research and the unconscious mind.”
Daniel refines her inspiration with his own ideas and keen editing eye. “He’s a wonderful editor and thinker,” Judith said as Daniel reaches out to hold her hand. This sweet subtle act of love offers a glimpse into their personal relationship as well as their working relationship.
They first met in 1997, when Judith was teaching at Pratt Fine Arts Center where Daniel was a sculpture technician. Together, they were demonstrating iron pouring at a blacksmith conference when sparks flew of another nature. Their first kiss was on Tuesday, and they were engaged on Thursday. “I met all of Judith’s friends as her fiancé,” Daniel grinned.
“It only took people meeting Daniel for an hour for them to get on board. For one thing he’s super cute,” Judith laughed. “We consider ourselves very lucky. It was like coming home after spending an eternity looking for one.”
“Sometimes you just know; and we just knew,” Daniel professed.
All of Judith and Daniel’s work feels much like their relationship, that it was always meant to be there, inevitably fitting in with its surroundings.
Both Judith and Daniel are university trained sculptors and metal casters. Judith studied at the University of Washington and Daniel at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. They each bring a specific expertise to the table — Judith with sand casting and Daniel in lost wax — which gives them a wider berth of subject matter and type of sculpting they can achieve together than apart. Their wide range of skills makes them quite the artist power house couple.
Look for their works all over the Northwest, including at the Everett Station, where they designed the terrazzo floor in the great hall using mother of pearl and colored glass to represent the Snohomish River leading into the Sound and imbedding regionally important bronze ships into the floor. The outside pillars, Pillars of Industry as they’re titled, simultaneously represent three major ages — bronze, iron, and steel — and three major industrial eras of importance for Everett — the logging and mining of the 19th century (the bronze pillar), mills and factories of the 20th century (the iron pillar), and aviation and tech industry of the 21st century (the steel pillar). Each pillar offers layers of thought-provoking insight into Everett’s history.
Their most recent project, Artists at Play, opened this year at The Seattle Center. Designed with a team, the work is a children’s playground mixing sound, motion, and play. They worked with sound artist Trimpin, the landscape architects of Site Workshop, and the playground equipment specialists of Highwire to create and complete the project. The Caldwells produced 124 bronze castings placed in the playground, 38 of those reflect what sound means to the local children they polled. The playground is a work of remarkable artistry and imagination, one that both children and adults alike can’t get enough of.
From grand public displays like Blue Sky Baskets in White Center to tucked away corners like the humble embeddings of Paw Prints in the downtown Seattle REI to bronze masterpieces on school campuses, the Caldwells help shape and artistically humanize our Northwest landscape. They share wonder and contemplation through storied sculpture. Spend some time exploring the joy of public art as part of your 2016 bucket list!