Artist Lydia Aldredge created the mosaics at the new Queen Anne Towne building on upper Queen Anne. The bridge is a crowd favorite, while Aldrege has a soft spot for the cedar tree. Photos by Sarah Radmer
Artist Lydia Aldredge created the mosaics at the new Queen Anne Towne building on upper Queen Anne. The bridge is a crowd favorite, while Aldrege has a soft spot for the cedar tree. Photos by Sarah Radmer

The ground is brown, with strips of red brick and clouds of green. Seven circular mosaics display famous upper Queen Anne landmarks, and a metal star lets you know “You are here.” This map, designed into the pavement of the new Queen Anne Towne (1919 Queen Anne Ave. N.) apartment building, features the mosaic work of local artist and architect Lydia Aldredge.

Aldredge lived on Queen Anne for 25 years, during which time she established herself as a public artist — her work includes the famous mosaic columns on Queen Anne Avenue. After her successful work there, the Towne’s developers brought her in early on the development so they could plan where the art would go.

The red brick represents Queen Anne’s major streets, while the green is the major parks and greenspaces. Metal stairs show the public staircases. Aldredge created the map and worked with the developers and the Queen Anne Historical Society to decide what would be featured in each of the seven mosaics. The scenes depicted are the Queen Anne Farmers Market, the ravine bridge, the Wilke Farmhouse, Bethany Presbyterian Church, Queen Anne High School, Queen Anne Library and the long-forgotten giant cedar tree.

Aldredge also designed the Towne’s sign, which is an abstract picket fence and climbing rose, inspired by Seattle pioneer Louisa Denny’s famous sweet briar roses.

“The picket fence with the rose growing on it is sort of everyone’s idealized version of home,” she said. “But it’s personalized to Queen Anne and has a connection with the rose.”

The process

For the last four years, Aldredge has been making her mosaics using stained-glass material, which is both flat and comes in a wide variety of colors. Over the years, she’s changed her technique, switching up materials and building style to ensure the mosaics would be durable through installation, weather and wear.

When she’s preparing to create a mosaic, she takes pictures of the location and does drawings with watercolor or pastel to plan the design and colors.

Aldredge often tries to find multi-colored glass with swirls in it to add richness to the pieces. Sometimes, she’ll buy whole sheets of glass — like the unique, multi-colored glass used to create the bridge — to make sure she has enough. Other times, she’ll buy broken glass by the pound to get color variety.

Each of the mosaics is 7.5 square feet, and the average piece of glass is a half-inch square. Aldredge has no idea how many pieces of glass that adds up to, but it’s safe to assume it’s a lot.

Many people use 1-inch square pieces of glass to build their mosaics, but Aldredge doesn’t like that rigidity so she cuts each piece of glass. Sometimes it’s to fit a certain shape or design, for which she uses glass cutters; other times, it’s random.

“The piece shape and size become a feature of the design,” she said.

Aldredge moved her studio to Pioneer Square and personally relocated to Bellevue about a year ago. When she first moved to Pioneer Square, she applied for a temporary art installation in Occidental Park. For more than a month, she built two mosaics on steel tables and encouraged the community to come help. The interest was diverse, but a homeless man named Bentley Garcia came every day.

He was reliable and talented, Aldredge said, so when she needed another set of hands to help her build these seven mosaics, she hired Garcia and a friend, Alice Lobenstein. In the future, Aldredge has plans to help Garcia get on his feet by making and selling more of those mosaic tables.

Sharing the ‘vision’

Aldredge was working with the developers for about one year before she started building the mosaics in January. The mosaics took 10 to 12 days of eight-hour working days, with three people working on them. They were working nearly seven days a week to meet their May 1 installation deadline, Aldredge said.

The farmer’s market mosaic is the most abstract. To really get the scene, one needs to stand with their feet pointing at Aldredge’s signature and look at the baskets of fall produce, from squash and cabbage to carrots and broccoli.

Aldredge’s favorite mosaic is the lost cedar tree near the Trader Joe’s entrance. The cedar tree was a famous 2,500-year-old giant cedar tree that was on Queen Anne when it was settled. The tree was a famous landmark for local Native people, and ships used it to navigate into Elliott Bay.

When the site was homesteaded, the owner decided to cut the tree down. There are still smaller cedars on the property, which Aldredge thinks are root growth from that first tree.

“That’s a story I think everyone on Queen Anne should know,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what the tree looked like — it’s the tree of my imagination, in a way.”

The details on the Wilke Farmhouse mosaic — like the stars, porch and fence — took a look time to do, but those identifiable characteristics are important for Aldredge to get right.

The Bethany Church mosaic made Aldredge appreciate the neighborhood landmark she walked by for years. “I don’t think I really looked at it carefully until I got this request,” she said.

Aldredge is grateful the Towne owners had the vision to “individualize their building” and include public art.

“They’re not required to spend this kind of money,” she said. “I wish more people had that vision.”

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