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University of Washington to receive art and furniture from Safeco Insurance


Early next year, when the University of Washington moves into the property recently acquired from Safeco Corp. in the University District, it will own not only the furniture but some valuable art.

Safeco, which is based in Seattle, intends to donate furniture, framed posters, building equipment and the Robert Sperry sculpture in front of the building at Brooklyn Avenue and NE 45th Street. The University and Safeco are also negotiating a long-term loan of the George Tsutakawa fountain in the main entry plaza.

This morning, Marilyn Cox, assistant vice provost for capital planning, told University regents that the furniture gift allows the UW to avoid $10 million in furnishing costs. Many of the chairs, desks and office partitions in the 22-story, 510,546-square-foot building are from Herman Miller, the contemporary office furnishings company based in Zeeland, Mich.

The Sperry sculpture, commissioned in 1991, is meant to mimic shape of tower, said Safeco art curator Jackie Kosak. Seventeen feet high, 7 feet wide and 3 feet deep, the sculpture is faced with 359 ceramic tiles overlaid with Sperry’s signature crackled clay slip. Sperry wanted to echo the smoky airiness of the Pacific Northwest, Kosak said.

Sperry received a master of fine arts degree from the UW in 1955. For years before his 1982 retirement, he headed the UW ceramics department.

The Tsutakawa fountain is one of more than 75 bronze fountain sculptures the artist created. Born in the Capitol Hill area of Seattle, Tsutakawa received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the UW and eventually a master of fine arts before joining the UW faculty, where he remained about 30 years.

According to biographer Martha Kingsbury, Tsutakawa’s fountains were inspired by Asian rock structures -- obos -- built by pilgrims to celebrate crossing of high mountain passes. They were also inspired by the stone towers and pagodas of Japan, and the totem poles of the Pacific Northwest. Tsutakawa thus achieved a deep synthesis of his experience: “the Asian with the western, the informal vernacular with the deeply individualized, the personally meaningful with the publicly accessible.”

Safeco announced in 2006 that as a cost-saving measure, it would sell its buildings in the University District and move to downtown Seattle. By the end of this year, it will move about 1,300 employees to 1001 Fourth Avenue Plaza, renaming it Safeco Plaza. Some employees will remain in the University District, working in the Roosevelt Commons property.

The UW is scheduled to begin occupying the buildings, renamed University Tower properties, in January 2008. In July, Provost Phyllis Wise is expected to announce which UW offices and units will move to the complex. It includes six buildings, two parking garages and two surface lots plus the former International House of Pancakes restaurant -- all located several blocks northwest of the main UW campus.


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