Sculptor Haiying Wu with a prototype for one of four cement lanterns that will be installed in The Troll Knoll. Courtesy photo

In 2021, Michiko Tanaka in 2021 created the Moss Turtle at the Troll’s Knoll by the Fremont Troll. Now, she’s teaming up with sculptor Haiying Wu to sculpt four large mushroom-shaped lanterns that will be placed on the same site.  

Tanaka finds herself repeatedly drawn to the Fremont Troll’s Knoll site. “When I first visited the Troll Knoll in 2020, it was rough and from what I could tell, not well-attended,” she recalled. “It’s exciting to be a part of transforming a space.” 

The turtle installation presented Tanaka with unexpected challenges. “One of the best aspects of working with Friends of Fremont Troll Knoll, who commissioned both the moss turtle and the mushroom lanterns, is that they have been open to new ideas,” she said. “They took a real chance with the Moss Turtle and I am so grateful for that.” 

As a living installation, the moss turtle has called people to engage with it. “Now, whenever I visit, there are lots of tourists in the park,” Tanaka said. “It’s wonderful to see them interact with the installation.” 

And there are other features that keep visitors interested, including a hokora (bamboo house) for the moss turtle, flowering cherry trees, a grove of birch trees, a painted tool shed, mushroom walk, flowers, birdhouses, and arch at the base of the park. But now, Tanaka and Wu are taking the next step with their new installation.  

Friends of Fremont Troll Knoll approached Tanaka to request mushroom-themed art that would complement a mushroom hunt they were planning. “When I came up with the Mushroom Lantern idea, Haiying was the only sculptor I contacted and fortunately he [had time available],” Tanaka recounted. “Haiying has a lot of experience with cement and stone sculpture and he was able to guide me through the sculptural creative process.” 

The unique shape of mushrooms added special challenges.  “It makes it impossible to use conventional method such as clay modeling to sculpt,” Wu said. “I have to utilize computer 3D modeling to establish the prototype then print it out.” 

The process is multi-phased. “After it comes out, then I use silicon rubber to create casting molds,” Wu described. “Due to the weight of the material itself during the reproduction process, combination also poses a lot of challenges.” 

The pair’s creative process was very collaborative. “I had something very specific in mind and it took me awhile to figure out how to get that idea across,” Tanaka said. “I was very pleased with the prototype! It was exactly what I had in mind.” 

She showed the prototype to a few other people and reports that the feedback has been positive. “The mushroom lanterns are serving two main purposes in the park, to highlight the mushroom walk, and to lead people from the north side of the park to the turtle,” Tanaka said. “They are also really cute and have the capability of lighting up at night.” 

Wu was likewise pleased with their teamwork. “The cooperation with Michiko is an interdisciplinary and pleasant cooperation,” he said. “We maintained close communication throughout the design and production process, and repeatedly deliberated on the size, proportion and shape of the design until a perfect effect was achieved.”  

That’s no surprise, since Tanaka is no stranger to collaborative ventures.  “I got to share a studio, Orange and Rose Color Research, with three other ladies at the old Ballard Blossom location,” she reported. “I installed an LED sign in the window and frequently change out messages.” 

But that’s not all. “One very exciting thing was getting into a show at The Museum of Flight,” she added. “My piece, an aerial view of Tokyo at night done in beads, was selected.” 

Meanwhile, back at Troll’s Knoll, both Tanaka and Wu are looking forward to sharing the lanterns with a broader Seattle audience. “The design concept of the mushroom lamp is very unique,” Wu said, “and it adds a very humanistic environment to the mini-park in the community.” 

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