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Two in Tow & On the Go | It’s OK to play on these works of art

Updated on April 7th, 2024 By:


Last month in Gig Harbor Now, writer Jennifer Preston discussed the importance of not only having public art in Gig Harbor — but playable art as well.

Here at Two In Tow & On The Go, we’re all for that. So I’m going to tell you about three South Sound public art pieces that I’ve personally verified as being A-OK to play and climb on. Heck, they’re even designed for it! And don’t worry, those annoying Target balls aren’t one of them. #IYKYK. (And if you don’t know – kids love climbing on those, but due to their curbside location in front of busy Target stores, those crazy spheres are just one slip and topple away from disaster).


Our first favorite piece of local playable art is one we’ve written about before — Gig Harbor’s very own “Seaform” concrete shell that’s been a Crescent Creek Park staple for decades. The eight-ton climbable mollusk, installed on the north end of the park near the creek lookout, was sculpted in 1975 by late artist Oliver Tiedeman. News reports, like the above clip from the Tacoma News Tribune, said Tiedeman intended for Seaform to be explored from all directions — inside and out. Clara and Wyatt were immediately drawn to its curvy and cave-like structures reminiscent of giant snails and seashells. Its construction in reinforced materials makes it sturdy, too! After all, the thing has lasted nearly four decades of kids (and probably some adults) climbing, crawling and exploring.

RELATED POST:  Two in Tow & On the Go: Get to know Crescent Creek Park at Gig Harbor Now

FIND IT: Crescent Creek Park is located at 3303 Vernhardson St. on Gig Harbor’s east side. Known to longtime residents simply as “City Park,” the site is also home to rentable picnic structures and the popular Maritime PlayZone boat, spinning buoy and swings.

“Fat Tire #7”

Wyatt and Clara on Fat Tire #7. Photo by Tonya Strickland.

Our second favorite playable public art the kids love around here is located across the bridge and way over at the fantastic Puyallup Pioneer Park. And it’s well worth the 21-mile drive. The late Lance Carleton’s “Fat Tire #7” Climbing Sculpture is a bicycle crafted in repurposed steel. Designed with oversized pieces, Fat Tire #7 is outfitted with step-up foot pedals and seats for two, all to encourage the exploration of motion and art that Carleton said he loved so much. PS: If you’re like me and wondered if there are Fat Tires 1 though 6 out in the world somewhere, I did find a “#4” in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’m lovin’ that big wheel!

FIND IT:  The bike artwork is located at Puyallup Pioneer Park, 300 S. Meridian, along the concrete walkways between the splash pad and the playground. If anyone gives you grief for climbing it, which they shouldn’t, you just tell ’em Two In Tow sent ya!

RELATED POST: All About Fat Tire #7 in Puyallup 

 “Mussel Beach”

Clara at Mussel Beach. Photo by Tonya Strickland.

Artist Verena Schwippert designed her Gig Harbor sculpture trio “Mussel Beach” as a nod to “the rich marine life and abundance of seafood in the Gig Harbor bay and Puget Sound,” according to the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). Her feature page there goes on to say that the shelled structures at Eddon Boat Park are designed to be fun and welcoming and “also provide a place to gather, talk, and sit.”

Sitting is nice — but how about standing on the cutest and smallest one with your little kid arms stretched way high to the sky? Because that’s the first thing Clara did after eyeing the granite rock artwork from our curbside seat along Harborview Drive at last year’s Maritime Gig Grande Parade.

As a sculptor, Schwippert looks to granite as her favorite medium by taking inspiration from the “megalithic Stone Age sites in Northern Germany, where she grew up. 

FIND IT: Eddon Boat Park, northeast corner, along the outdoor pathway at 3510 Grandview St.

The Zoo Sculptures

I said three places … but how about a bonus?? Turns out, I have three more kid art locations on my camera roll — and they’re all at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium! The third and fourth gallery pictures are of the same place — but posting that extra image of my kids acting like silly gorillas for the online newspaper is mandatory.

“The Family”

  • This 1976 bronze sculpture by local artist Clare Shaver sees all sorts of climbing kiddos on, around and near it every day — and what a cute symbol of community that is. “Community” is actually the artwork’s main theme, and you can read about it here. And, yes, this artist wanted the piece to inspire the joy of play, too. In 2021, the Point Defiance Park staff posted to Facebook the sentiment that even though the artwork was made back in 1976, “today, visitors may still see young guests climbing on the sun-warmed bronze connecting with the art just as the artist intended.” Awww.

 “E.T.” the Pacific Walrus

  • Located at the zoo’s main entrance, this 6-foot tall bronze replica of a 33-year former zoo resident with a big personality is every child’s favorite thing to climb on and slide down. I didn’t realize this, but apparently you’re supposed to high-five his big ‘ol bronze flipper on your way into the zoo! I wouldn’t know because I’m never paying attention to anything below his neck — because straight to the top is always where Wyatt seems to be! E.T. came to the zoo as an orphan calf in 1982 and “won hearts with his famous flipper wave and endearing vocalizations.” E.T. passed away in 2015, and the statue debuted two years later. Artist Matthew Gray Palmer worked to recreate the beloved mammal by capturing both his physical features and his personality. According to this cool article the zoo posted (with videos!), “E.T. was famous for his friendliness to visitors, including a famous flipper wave.”

 “Beloved Ivan”

  • Between the zoo’s parking lot and its front gates lies a series of concrete ramps and stairs and right in the middle is Tacoma’s Hollywood-famous gorilla, Ivan. The sculpture version of this western lowland gorilla honors the real one who famously grew up with a local family in Tacoma, lived at the kooky B&I shopping mall in Lakewood and found a home at a gorilla habitat at Zoo Atlanta before passing away in 2012 at age 50, according to the zoo’s website. Make sure to tap on that link to check out more of Ivan’s fascinating and heartwarming story (he’s my favorite Tacoma celebrity). And make sure to catch the book — and the Disney movie!
  • IVAN UPDATE #1: Big thanks to everyone who emailed me saying I forgot to add the name of the artist who created the “Beloved Ivan” statue. The life-size bronze sculpture was created by the talented Douglas Granum who shaped the 6-foot-tall, 600-pound replica in a pose inspired by Ivan’s real life. In fact, the inspo came from a moment captured by Tacoma News Tribune journalist Dean Koepfler when he photographed Ivan touching a Magnolia blossom on the first day in his new outdoor enclosure at Zoo Atlanta,” according to The Ivan Foundation
  • IVAN UPDATE #2: Unlike the other pieces of public art mentioned here, I realized that while I’ve seen kids of all kinds climb on the Ivan statue – I haven’t actually verified that Granum intended for folks to interact with it in that way. So maybe hold off on climbing the bronze Ivan for now 🙂 But don’t worry – I’m on the case!

See ya out there!

Mom and two kids standing with water and boats in the background.

Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two and longtime journalist. Now in the travel and family niche, her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (9) and Wyatt (7) in 2021. Find them on Facebook for all the kid-friendly places in and around town.