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Weekly Art Hit: ‘The Unified Playing Field Theory’ by Ginny Ruffner

With the dedication of South Park Vortex by Horatio Law coming up this Saturday, we thought we’d feature another public artwork in South Park – The Unified Playing Field Theory (1989) by Ginny Ruffner. The artwork at South Park Community Center was one of the earliest design team projects in which the artist worked closely with the architects from the beginning stages of renovation. Ruffner worked closely with ARC Architects, offering ideas on both structural and decorative aspects of the project.

Ruffner’s principal contribution centered on the entry sequence to the building and the tile in the locker rooms. The artist-designed entry portal is a 26-foot‑high painted steel structure that serves as a landmark and identification sign for the center. Ruffner designed cast-bronze inlays for the sidewalk leading to the main entrance. The inlays depict each day of the year, with special holidays highlighted. Also included in the sidewalk is the alphabet, with each letter and its symbol in Braille, Morse code and hand signs. All of the artwork has been incorporated into a game devised by the artist that children of all ages can play. The sidewalk patterns continue through the entrance and into the lobby, where more bronze symbols representing the solar system are set in colored concrete surrounded by symbols in sets of five: Washington mountains, local animal species, sports played at the center and the human senses.

Inside the locker rooms Ruffner created a ceramic mural featuring the handprints of well‑known local athletes, such as Debbie Armstrong, Chris Gobrecht, Fred Brown and Jim Zorn. Handprints of neighborhood youngsters are intermingled with those of the athletes.

Constructed in 1913, South Park Community Center was one of the first in Seattle, known then as a “field house.” Unique among centers nationally, South Park introduced the concept of consolidated facilities, which required fewer operating staff and provided a “homey” atmosphere. A new facility was completed in 1989.

The Unified Playing Field Theory was funded with Seattle Parks and Recreation 1% for Art funds. South Park Vortex was commissioned with Seattle Public Utilities 1% for Art funds and made possible with additional assistance from South Park Arts, South Park Library, South Park Community Center, students of Concord Elementary School and Seattle Parks and Recreation.

IMAGES: Ginny Ruffner; Unified Playing Field Theory; 1989; painted steel, masonry, bronze tiles, concrete, ceramic. Located at South Park Community Center.


Tamara Gill, Community Development & Outreach