Historic Georgetown Steam Plant Inspires Art Exhibition

Seattle City Light’s historic Georgetown Steam Plant will be part of the focus of an art exhibition from March 5 to 26 at Gallery4Culture, 101 Prefontaine Place S.
Photo of artist Chris Crites inside the Georgetown Steam Plant.

Artist Chris Crites works inside the Georgetown Steam Plant during the Duwamish Artist Residency.

Seattle City Light’s historic Georgetown Steam Plant will be part of the focus of an art exhibition from March 5 to 26 at Gallery4Culture, 101 Prefontaine Place S.

For the past two summers, a variety of artists have visited the steam plant during the Duwamish Artist Residency. During their visits, the steam plant inspired them to create paintings, photographs, collages, screen presses and other works.

“We go down to the river to explore and to learn,” residency co-organizer Fiona McGuigan said.

“The first year we spent exploring the river, being outside, navigating access places, and learning about the history of the river. We focused on educational things, doing tours, and just finding places you can access the river. Whereas the steam plant was a whole different experience, it was such an amazing part of our residency,” she said.

“Walking into the place, it took our breath away, the artistry in the machinery, every piece of pipe that was wrapped individually, each one of the valves knobs is different, all the imperfections,” McGuigan said. “You can feel the hand-made, artifacts of working. It’s a different kind of history that you can feel in the steam plant. Everything has a history, and the steam plant remembers who worked there.”

A photo of a stencil depicting machinery.

Fiona McGuigan created this stencil based on machinery at the Georgetown Steam Plant.

 Artist Jessica Dodge is in the process of creating a short film, “Ghost in the Machine.”

“Last summer, when I was creating the images for this show over the many hours we spent in the cavernous, industrial space of the Georgetown Steam Plant, I was struck by a lingering presence of the men who had built that brilliant grid of pipe, stoked the furnaces, and kept the steam flowing through those enormous generators to produce power for the homes and businesses of the region,” Dodge said. “My intention with this film is to conjure for the viewer the persistent human element I’d felt while working in that environment.”

Get a sneak peek at Dodge’s short film here: Ghost in the Machine clip

Posters of knobs and gauges from the Georgetown Steam Plant.

Gauges and knobs at the steam plant inspired artist Chris Crites to create these prints.

The steam plant, a National and City of Seattle Historic Landmark, stands today as a reminder of the era of electrification of America’s cities and a time when industry was first attracted to Seattle by its inexpensive hydroelectric power and electric trolley car system. Built in 1906-1907 by the Seattle Electric Company on 18 acres of land along the Duwamish River, the plant was once at the center of the bustling residential and industrial activity in the rapidly growing Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

In 1951, the City of Seattle Department of Lighting – today’s Seattle City Light – purchased the plant and operated it on a limited basis until the 1970s.

Close-up photo of a valve.

Linda Davidson focused on the details of the Georgetown Steam plant in this photo.

“The Georgetown Steam Plant is an incredibly intact industrial site and we are delighted to have shared it with the artists in the Duwamish Residency,” said Seattle City Light’s Jennifer Meisner, who coordinates programming at the steam plant. “It’s thrilling to hear from the artists how their time in the space inspired their work and to see the rich and varied ways they re-interpreted it.”

Modern operations for City Light continue nearby at the Duwamish Substation. Built in 1955, the substation accepts 230,000 volt electricity from transmission lines and provides 26,000 volt electricity into the distribution system that delivers electricity to our customers’ homes and businesses.

If you would like to visit the Georgetown Steam Plant, it is open to the public on the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free guided tours are offered at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

For more information about the steam plant, visit http://www.seattle.gov/light/georgetownsteamplant/.