Updated: Sammamish Welcomes Spring Tree "Socks" on 228th Ave., as the Blue-White Knitted Coverings Are Retired

As the city welcomes the new installation by artists Suzanne Tidwell and Beth Newfeld, Sammamish Patch asked people about the winter "socks," which were controversial.

They've withstood snowstorms, heavy rain and pointed scrutiny from some residents. The City Council has discussed them at public meetings.

Now, with spring in the air, the much talked about Sammamish tree stumps, known for sporting knitted "socks" as their sartorial garb of choice, have shed their snowflake patterns and cool winter hues of blue.

In their place on 228th Avenue Northeast, near , are shades of light purple, pink and green, a reminder of the summer days that come to Sammamish. Flower-like patterns also dot the tall stumps.

On Monday, the knitted, fiber work of area artists Suzanne Tidwell and Beth Newfeld was complete. In a sense, it's an outdoor museum with the city reporting that the street is home to a total of 23,000 cars, trucks, SUVs and vans which drive by each day.

Before Tidwell worked on the blue-and-white winter "socks" project late last year, she said she felt something was missing from the street scene and those bare, topped-off trees. "I was compelled to do something when I saw those poor, sad stumps," she said.

The 20-foot stumps, which once were slated to become totem poles, sit on city property. The trees are diseased. The spring art project is supported by a $3,000 grant from 4Culture, a Seattle-based nonprofit group.

Tidwell and Newfeld worked with youth volunteers on Saturday to prepare the trunks for their coming out party. As the two each carefully sewed colorful pieces around a tree, a passenger in a truck asked: "What are they for?"  

Paul Tidwell, Suzanne Tidwell's husband, responded: "For fun." 

Fun, contemplation and conversation are goals when art is placed in public places. But the winter "socks" project prompted critical comments from some residents about whether they added beauty. Some argued that the knitted coverings were out of context.

Eastlake High School student Chris Pribbernow operates a Facebook page and advocates that the city cut the topped-off trees down. He has spoken before the City Council about his opposition, calling the "socks" unnatural.

On the Facebook page, which had 255 "likes" as of Sunday, people had posted comments calling the knitted coverings an "eyesore" and a "waste of dollars and time."

One suggested that the trees be cut down and given to people who lack money for heat and need firewood. Some explained that there are better uses for the money. 

In an Eastlake High parking lot one day last month, a school staff member, who declined to give her name, labeled the winter "socks" a "visual hindrance for turning" when she drives to campus.

"I'm not fond of it. They don't add too much to the ugly stumps," the woman said. "It's unusual. It's unnatural. It's a tea cozy on a tree trunk."

If conversation is a byproduct of public art, then the "socks" have accomplished two things: More people are thinking about what they've seen and they're making their opinions known.

Some told Sammamish Patch that the "socks" bring color and "coolness" to the area and that the coverings are better than bare trunks. 

The city has tracked many of the email comments that were sent in support or opposition to the winter "socks."

As of last month, an informal tally kept by Lyman Howard, the city's finance director, showed a total of 42 comments with 63 percent in support of the winter "socks" and 37 percent in opposition.

The City Council has approved the spring project, which city rules require even though the grant money is coming from 4Culture. The Council also voted to have the trees removed in December.

Although some residents have criticized the stump "socks," others have found them charming and felt that they added personality to the busy intersection.

Tidwell said she is fine with a little controversy, although she would prefer if comments not turn ugly.

"All art creates controversy. You want that sort of 'love it or hate it' feeling. But people should be able to express their opinions without it turning mean," she said. 

The plan to have the the trees turned into totem poles ran into hard economic times, officials have said. Tidwell lobbied to create the art "socks" for the trees. She won support from the Sammamish Art Council, which brought the idea to the City Council.

With the winter project, she used 38.6 miles of recycled acrylic yarn, according to the city. That is equal to 85 pounds of yarn, much of which she and Newfeld found at Value Village or other shops. Some yarn was donated.

Private donations largely supported the winter project. A factsheet for that project and released by the city shows that one goal was to engage Sammamish residents and brighten their day.

"This project will give the city time to come to a final decision about what to do with these trees," according to the factsheet.

"Through our artistic vision we hope to take a subject of contention and disappointment and turn it into one that gives the residents of Sammamish pause and smile. How can you help but be engaged at the sight of 20 foot snow-flake covered tree stumps sprouting to life on a main thoroughfare where 23,000 cars pass each day?"

The spring art installation is scheduled to last from April through June. A summer "sock" project for the trees is possible.

Howard explained that once the trees are removed in December they are likely to be used in habitat preservation work at . 

Editor's note: This story was updated on Monday, April 4 to include new photographs of the finished art project. The City Council discussed the spring art project on March 8. Video of the meeting is available and the art project discussion starts at around the 1 hour 43 minute mark. Tidwell's work can be seen online and she is scheduled to be at the ArtsFair on July 29, 30 and 31.

Chris Pribbernow April 14, 2011 at 04:00 AM
I am not gonna explain why I hate em because I am getting tired of repeating myself so much. Just check out my FB page!
narns April 14, 2011 at 04:30 AM
They are so distracting and awful. It's embarrassing. Use its natural beauty to make art. The totem poles would have been great. If you are going to knit them tree cozies you are better off just putting the stumps out of their misery and planting new trees.
Cindy Claypool April 18, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Prettier than a lot of public art. cc
Chris Pribbernow April 19, 2011 at 02:08 AM
Anyone see the King 5 news story? http://www.king5.com/video/featured-videos/Sammamish-tree-socks--120151794.html
Kim Hornsby May 27, 2011 at 03:48 AM
i think they are pretty and I can't believe that someone would take on this project to beautify those ugly stumps. I smile everytime I drive by and secretly commend the women who made that corner a thing of beauty. Thanks ladies.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »