Earlier this year, I was contacted by Kari Berger of the Seattle Metals Guild, a non-profit arts group with a focus on metalworking. The group was working on an exhibit of jewelry and sculpture made from wood salvaged from the historic schooner Wawona. I published a history of the ship in 2006, three years before she was broken up on Seattle’s Lake Union, 112 years after she was launched in Eureka, Calif.
I spent several years working on maritime history projects, but none captured my heart quite so much as Wawona. She was launched in 1897 and carried lumber from Puget Sound and Washington coast ports to San Francisco and other California ports until World War I. After the war, fishermen based in Seattle took her to the Bering Sea to fish for cod. Northwest Seaport, the non-profit that once owned Wawona, worked for nearly a half-century to preserve her, but the elements finally won the battle and she was deconstructed in 2009.
Port Townsend’s Northwind Arts Center hosts the exhibit May 4-29, 2017.
Since then, salvaged parts have made their way to several locations. One of the most interesting results is a monumental sculpture by John Grade that sits in the atrium of Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry. The top of the sculpture, which reminds you of the trunk of a tree, literally pokes through the museum’s roof. The ship’s wood came from trees, of course, and now some of the wood has been returned to a form resembling its natural origin.
Berger says the Guild received several pieces of wood salvaged from the ship, and its artists have created their own sculptures and jewelry. I’m not able to attend the exhibition, or the opening night celebration on May 6, but I was thrilled to learn about the project and I’d encourage everyone to see the Guild members’ work.
People in the Northwest pride themselves on finding new uses for old materials, rather than just throwing them away. Wawona was a kind of industrial art of her time, requiring skilled artisans and craftsmen to create a one-of-a-kind vessel. I’d bet that her builders would stand in wonder at John Grade’s piece, and they’d appreciate the creativity of the area’s metal artists. The Guild’s work helps preserve the memory of Wawona.
Image of Wawona courtesy Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society