Proposed plankton sculpture skewered by Port Townsend residents

Posted 5/13/22

Plankton has its place, and it’s not near the playground at Pope Marine Park.

That was the overwhelming sentiment from nearly a dozen people who spoke out about the proposed new piece of …

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Proposed plankton sculpture skewered by Port Townsend residents


Plankton has its place, and it’s not near the playground at Pope Marine Park.

That was the overwhelming sentiment from nearly a dozen people who spoke out about the proposed new piece of public art in downtown during last week’s meeting of the Port Townsend Arts Commission.

Rebecca Welti, a sculptor who melds marine science with art, recently approached the commission with plans to place an 8-foot-tall sculpture of a crab plankton at the city’s Pope Marine Park.

Multiple members of the public have since submitted written comments on the idea to the Arts Commission.

Most were opposed to the idea, adding further criticism to the continuing public debate on public art that has arisen since the recent vandalism to the white wooden sculptures in the city’s Creative District.

“My personal opinion of the weird art in public places here in PT is that it is horrible,” MJ Peck, a Port Townsend homeowner, wrote in a message to the commission.

Peck called the proposed plankton structure “freakish.”

“There is nothing outsiders visiting our city would understand. It is without beauty or history. It is crude and unwelcoming. I do not understand why you chose to put such abhorrent monstrosities on our public grounds. I love the ocean around us and the animals who live here. None of this so-called art gives me the feeling of wanting to love and protect them. This is what I think you should be striving for,” Peck added.

“Please, no more white art sculptures as public art,” wrote Lisa Lanza of Port Townsend. “I don’t care how important plankton is in our lives, my vote is NO! Have we not learned our lesson from the last set that are being vandalized?”

“I am wondering if the arts commission is trying to put Port Townsend on the map as the city with the worst taste in public art. A tourist gimmick, perhaps?” Lanza asked.

In another comment to commissioners, Carlene Dahlman said the existing public art pieces did not enhance the area’s natural beauty.

“I’ve tried to like the bike chain, the bolt, the wood stumps and cement mounds around town but they only irritate me,” Dahlman wrote.

“The totem pole makes sense and is pleasing to the eye. I’d much rather we spend money caring for the natural surroundings of our Peninsula and making sure the massive historic buildings stay structurally sound for generations to come,” Dahlman continued. “And well-paved streets.”

Others questioned about whether the plankton sculpture would topple over on children who tried to climb it, or took issue with the proposed aesthetics of the piece.

“They don’t say ‘plankton’ to me. And anyone who is not an aficionado of ‘plankton’ will not make the connection,” noted resident Katie Appleyard. “To me, they look like some sort of futuristic creatures, that do not say Port Townsend - a ‘Victorian and Seaport’ town.”

“While modern art has its place, we are quickly losing the intrinsic character of Port Townsend. It is partisan on the part of a small committee to choose a representation of what the community stands for, and influence how outside visitors will experience PT, without requesting the support/opinion of the community as a whole,” she added.

Some of those who commented were even more blunt.

“I am not an artist but an appreciator of art and I feel the crab plankton sculpture, while a noble idea, is very unsightly. I’ll bet you can raise awareness of those important creatures without erecting an ugly sculpture,” noted Laura Showers of Port Townsend.

Resident Gail Workman wrote: “I’d be very grateful if the proposed crab plankton sculpture were to be shelved. Besides being ungainly and unartistic, it has an appendage at the top that looks exactly like a whale’s penis.”

A few residents supported the plankton sculpture, saying the more often people are reminded of the life, history, and significance of plankton, the better.

“I am dismayed at the shade being thrown by the same ol’ characters on NextDoor. Plankton looks like plankton,” offered Mary DeVoe.

“I think others may need to get out more, do more, and get off social media before throwing their opinions around,” she added. “My guess is the artist considered how to engage children and chose a creature with them in mind. Nobody will be impaled by a rounded, curved arc that is 8 ft. high.

“I think the piece makes a great photo opportunity, a great conversation starter (as Nextdoor fodder has shown) and it doesn’t take up much real estate in an area where that is at a premium,” DeVoe wrote.

Art commissioners have noted that the advisory body would not be the group to make a decision to allow or not allow the artwork, and stressed the proposal would have to undergo multiple reviews by other groups, and eventually, the city council, for final approval.


8 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here


    Why don't they actually add to the playground stuff. more bars ropes slides, make it really fun. Parents would love it. PT has nothing for kids

    Friday, May 13 Report this

  • winniwoman

    I agree with the other person commenting. We need some good, challenging play equipment for children of all ages. Things that will challenge their imaginations, as the pirate boat did, and things that will challenge them physically should be considered. An excellent example of play equipment that children love is the playground next to the Olympic Medical Center in Port Angeles. Also, there are many examples in Seattle, the one adjacent to the zoo and the one next to the space needle, just to mention just a couple. I would like to see a professional playground designer rather than an artist brought in to create such a play space (or spaces) for our children.

    Friday, May 13 Report this

  • Dcc

    So "nearly a dozen" people didn't like Rebecca Welti's sculpture idea. I for one think she is a brilliant artist. I have no objection to more playground equipment as well, but it would be a shame to dismiss the opportunity to have her work on public display.

    Friday, May 13 Report this

  • MargeS

    It was a real disappointment when Pope Marine Park set aside a very small portion for a playground (children under 6) My grandchildren loved the slide, the swing, and being at the beach, with ice cream from elevated. A sculpture just takes up space where playground equipment makes kids laugh and have fun. I am not saying the artist isn't good, I am just saying not in a playground.

    Friday, May 13 Report this

  • Justin Hale

    Dcc, to me it's more a matter of placement. The piece may be a fine representation of the crab plankton or whatever it is, most people wouldn't know, I don't know. Over the years, the major activity I see at that park is kids playing on the playground equipment. If I were a kid in that park would I like to see more playground equipment or a sculpture that looks like something alien.

    Friday, May 13 Report this

  • deanna

    I love this sculpture and the plan for it's installation.

    I've read the comments by detractors, and -Funny Thing Is- they've obviously NOT ACTUALLY READ the first article.

    People criticize and say that "what we really need there is play equipment." Well, the proposal image itself has a child PLAYING on it!

    People worry that it is expensive, but the artist has actually arranged for FREE SHIPPING!

    People assume that other people won't know what it is - but the proposal includes a plan for INTERPRETIVE SIGNAGE.

    This sculpture, designed for children's play, will be a great gift to our town. That location would be perfectly placed for great reasons: next to a public park, right on the waterfront where plankton reside nearby.

    We've learned that: the more public art a town has, the more people are tolerant of new art that reveals new voices, whether or not those voices are among the many local artists who have been recognized at the national or international level. Let's encourage more public art by more of our talented artists!

    Sunday, May 15 Report this

  • Snowball_InHawaii

    Well, you go right ahead! I'M not playing on anything that looks like a murder hornet.

    Sunday, May 15 Report this

  • Justin Hale

    Deanna, in the story that is not a child playing on that ugly thing, more like a child praying to some alien being. Wow!, free shipping. Me and my friends will haul it away for free.

    I do like the idea of the INTERPRETIVE SIGNAGE plaque, just leave off the ugly sculpture.

    Sunday, May 15 Report this