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In remembrance: Merrily Tompkins

Artist and metalsmith Merrily Tompkins, whose artwork is represented in the permanent public art collection, has passed away. 

Originally working as a jewelry maker and silversmith, Ms. Tompkins joined the design team for the Creston Nelson Substation, a Seattle City Light facility in South Seattle, in the late 1970’s. Working alongside artists Clair Colquitt and Ries Niemi, she created several artworks, including Tesla’s Head, which served as a planter in the form of the electrical pioneer Nikolai Tesla and was installed in 1982.  

This artwork fell into disrepair and was eventually remade and re-sited at Seattle City Light’s North Service Center, and re-titled Big Tesla. Covered in mosaics and planted with grasses and trailing plants, it rests in a courtyard at this city facility. The artist initially selected Tesla to relate to the electrical theme of the original site, and as her artwork evolved, she wrote: “I realized that  . . . making the . . . .grasses  . . . seem to emerge from Tesla’s head was also a kind of visual reference to his enormous, ubiquitous contribution to the ‘domestication’ of electrical power.” 

“Merrily had a great sense of humor and working with her was always fun. Big Tesla is both an out-sized head and a delicately worked mosaic artwork, intricate in its detail.