ArtSEA: Stolen and scrapped, Seattle’s Arboretum gates are back

“I’m so relieved,” Gerry Tsutakawa told me this morning as he watched the new gates being installed. “I’ve been worried about staying up every night.” He said that recreating the leaves, pods, vines and compound curves in bronze was no easy task, even though he had his dad’s original drawings. (“He was a packrat,” he noted, with a knowing look.)

The gates — stretching 20 feet across when closed — are made of 150 individual pieces of bronze, each of which had to be cut, welded and finished by hand. “It was a head-scratcher all the way through,” Tsutakawa said. As with the original creation, nothing was done by computer.

Still wrapped in plastic as workers made final adjustments, the gates cast a stained-glass glow on the path where the burbling organic forms made for graceful shadows. The two sections are enormously heavy and will remain open most of the time, welcoming visitors to the grassy shores of Azalea Way — a new location and one much better suited to the artistry than the previous spot, which opened onto the visitor-center parking lot .

With a small group of family and arboretum staff standing by and occasionally dipping into a pink box of celebratory donuts, workers closed the gates and moved the orange cones aside. Tsutakawa stepped forward to help remove the plastic. (Watch the unwrapping here.) He pointed out the sections salvaged from the original gates — a portion of circles at the top of the right gate, and on the left, a flat stretch of bronze containing his father’s name.

Next week, the public is invited to a free celebration of the restored gates, featuring food trucks and Taiko drumming at the Washington Park Arboretum on the west side of the Graham Visitor Center (Sept. 14 from 3:30 – 6 pm).