This is Timbre lines… A podcast exploring art, history, community and cedar.

This week I am in Mothership sound studios! Thank you Alma Mater Tacoma. I’m thrilled to explore a new medium…sound, as a new way to approach storytelling. The podcast is called Timbre…lines.

We’re exploring timbre here. That is timbre as in sound, or the character or quality of music or voice. It’s how you recognize the different sounds or voices that you hear. 

We are recognizing different voices of the local people and the communities that rely on the stately cedar tree for sustenance, sanctuary and livelihood as we navigate these waters.

I’m in the studio (left) with Amber Sterud Hayward, Puyallup Tribal Language Program Director. I also spoke with historians and preservationists Brandon Reynon (Puyallup Tribal Historic Preservation Officer) and Michael Sullivan (Artifacts Consulting). Claire Keller-Scholz (Tacoma Parks) speaks about the fire in the episode Up in Flames and Rebecca Solverson (Public Art Specialist for City of Tacoma) turns the table and starts to interview the artist, 😉that’s me, Mary Coss. This week I recorded the first half of six episodes. More to come! The series will be published later this year.

Funding is secured for Ghost Timbre!

Are you listening? A note about Timbre…

  • Cedar Gathering

Take time to closely listen to the sounds around us.  I’ve been thinking about how sound is temporal, but beyond that some sounds are timeless in a way, for instance the sound of waves lapping on a shore or the sounds of the wind in the forest. It gives me chills to consider that my ancestors could listen to some of the same sounds I hear today.  Others of course change through time.  My newest project is called Ghost Timbre. This sound piece will include historical sounds that would have been heard at Dickman Mill and the surrounding natural environment, mixed with interviews that offer historical perspective from Puyallup Tribal members and mill owners and workers. My research took me further into the uses of cedar and the lands of the local indigenous people. I recently went on a cedar gathering with the Puyallup Tribe. This sustainable practice creates unique sounds which will be mixed with familiar sounds of the forest in this work. The cedar stripping from the tree is fresh and exhilarating. The practice honors the cedar with a prayer, offering and thanks. The trees chosen withstand the scar and live on. 

Ghost Timbre will accompany my Ghost Log at Dickman Mill Park. This is Puyallup land. Traditional homelands of the Puyallup tribe. The integration of Lushootseed and twined baskets in the Ghost Log and related sounds in Ghost Timbre are a small step in allyship, in helping to lift their voices and celebrate the history and experience of the Indigenous people. Small steps in ongoing work. 

Thanks to the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, Port of Tacoma, and City of Tacoma Historic Preservation Office and Office of Arts for supporting this project.  

Finalist for Uptown

 Rise, is based on an architectural column that contains a tree within it

I have received a contract to propose new artwork, a permanent exterior sculpture for the Uptown neighborhood at 100 Roy Street in Seattle.

Rise is an abstracted column transformed into a tree. Columns standing alone read as monuments. In context, they transmit the weight of the structure above to the structural elements below. This is a form of compression that is inherantly contradicted in my design. The column has been released from its physical function and shattered by nature itself, in the form of a tree. The tree seems to have grown within the column and bursts through at its seams. The corten steel artwork combines the built environment with nature.

This “tree” is abstract and represented as lacy cut sheet metal in the form of Cedar Bark. The shoots are tipped with bronze cast buds. The base of the column is cast concrete and reads as an architectural plinth. It serves as a footing and a gathering place for people to sit. It will be lit inside to feature the lacy shadows cast at night, in addition to the natural sunlit shadows of the day.

Surge Commission is approved

Surge Sculpture Installation Spring 2021

Public art making is a long process, with many hurdles and challenges. It’s satisfying to finally get through all those hoops and to have a sculpture built that remains true to your vision. I am happy to share that my sculpture Surge, at Bainbridge Island High School, has made it through those hoops. Fabrication is starting. Thanks to Mike Sweney of the Washington State Arts Commission for shepherding me through the process.

Spokane Library Finalist

Watermark Finalist Proposal:

My sculpture often includes lighting, text, and a combination of bold forms with intricate detail. My contract proposal for the Spokane Library atrium follows these signature principles. The atrium’s varied light conditions continually change under its massive skylights, and are a prime consideration in the design. The library location near Spokane Falls and the architecture of the building are considered parameters.

The local river geology is fascinating. The basalt itself is an intriguing story, created by lava and carved by floods. The architects designed abstract faceted boulders to form structures within the building that reference the falls. The boulders are half of the geologic story. My proposal introduces the other half, the story of the water, in the artwork titled Watermark. These faceted raindrops integrate my bronze text technique. The cursive script creates lace like forms to frame lexan panels of color. The integration of the cursive text provides for an opportunity to add layers of meaning. My proposal uses bits of literature that you find in the library itself, proverbs about raindrops from around the world. 

New Public Art Contract!

Mary Coss creates new Sculpture for Bainbridge Island High School

New design work for Bainbridge Island! I looked at the wave in the form of a cross section and saw how similar it is to an opening fern frond.   The images follow the golden ratio which describes predictable patterns found in nature. My research led me to propose three monumental scaled cross sections. The first image is a fern unfurling, next waves build up and crash. Water jet cut metal forms the three shapes. Cut words create detail and texture, and deepen meaning. They tell a story of growth and resilience. The three cross-sections sit on a cement wedge, a place to gather. The modern wedge form is cast in concrete and grounds the art in an aesthetic that ties in to the architecture. Stay tuned for more updates!

Guest Artist: Conversations

Opening November 7th

Taking off the Gloves

J. Rinehart Gallery presents an exhibition of artwork in conversation. Featuring new works by Jaq Chartier, Katy Stone, Maggie Jiang, and guest artists Hernan Paganini and Mary Coss. On View in the gallery from November 7 – December 19, 2020.

Stay tuned! I’ll be taking part in the upcoming live-streamed Conversations.

“With a unique mix of materials, imagery and techniques, this exhibition combines the works of seemingly different artists in the same visual space, creating a new conversation between the works and the viewer as they interact.

Mary Coss’ bronze gloves paired with Meggan Joy’s digitally collaged floral hand gestures speaks to feminine ideals and modern strength within the rich symbolic nature of our hands. Joy’s fleeting floral collages flow into Katy Stone’s works on aluminium as her silhouettes of flora dance off the wall.”

Can you hear me? 2020 Jack Straw Artist Support Program Residency!

Thank you Jack Straw Cultural Center!

My Artist Support Residency will support professional master sound recordings on my newest project. Ghost Timbre is a sound experience that will accompany my Public Art sculpture Ghost Log at Dickman Mill Park on Commencement Bay in Tacoma. The residency includes a public exhibit and a podcast. 

Ghost Timbre mixes historical sounds heard at Dickman Mill and its natural surroundings with interviews that speak to its history. These include stories from the Dickman family (previously recorded by Storycorp); interviews of Puyallup elders, documentation of a cedar gathering, tribal blessings and song; sound from a working vintage mill; worker interviews; logs splashing in water; sounds of the park’s wetland and native birds singing.  The soundtrack is accessed through a web link at the waterfront park and permanently hosted on the Metro Parks Tacoma website.

Alma Mater Tacoma has offered audio recording consultation, a public event, and a public exhibit in Milk Gallery.

A partnership with Eastside Community Center (Metro Parks) lends in kind support. Lonnie Perrin, sound engineer at The Center’s Billy Ray Shirley III Recording Studio, will help me record. Thank you partners for supporting the project!

Ghost Log & Ghost Timbre move forward

Ghost Log to be installed on Commencement Bay winter 2020/2021

Ghost Timbre is the audio component that supports the public artwork Ghost Log, a monumental sized public sculpture by artist Mary Coss at Dickman Mill Park. Ghost Log will be sited on a restored antique artifact, the head saw from the original Dickman Lumber Mill on Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront. The sound component is an imperative piece of storytelling. It fleshes out the relationship of the people in the community to the local lumber industry.

Ghost Log

The sculpture itself is a 40’ long corten steel form with a laser cut skin resembling cedar bark.  An 8’ wheel gear at the park end of the log makes witness to the enormous scale and contributes to a deeper understanding of the machinery and the history. The mechanical structural log transforms to the organic as it twists and turns, first to form a basket weave midway and then culminates in cedar boughs at the water’s edge. The basket form honors the tribal lands of the area. The cedar basket motif appears again in the signage. A small bronze sculpture in the shape of a cedar basket holds the interpretive engraved signage for the artwork.

The Ghost Log creates a network of reflection on the water at night. Lit within, the shadows reflect onto the water surface. The log is embedded with words to support the historical connection to the mill, the tribe, cedar, and the logging industry. The sound aids this ethereal visual quality and flushes out the stories and sounds of the park and its history.

Ghost Timbre

The sound component mixes historical sounds that would have been heard at the mill and its natural surroundings with interviews that speak to its history. This includes: stories from the Dickman family (previously recorded by Storycorp); interviews of Puyallup elders, documentation of a cedar gathering, tribal blessings and song; sound from a working vintage mill; worker interviews; logs splashing in water; sounds of the park’s wetland and native birds singing.  The soundtrack is accessed at the waterfront park and permanently hosted on the Metro Parks Tacoma website. On site, a QR code and link to the virtual sound is posted on interpretive signage. The link provides access to the audio on your phone at the pier, or later at home. 

SOLA Award

I am grateful to be a recipient of this year’s SOLA Award. Started by Ginny Ruffner and Artist Trust SOLA awards $3000 unrestricted grants to three female artists over the age of 60 “for their energy, vision, persistence, and dedication to maintaining creative momentum over the long haul. ” Congratulations to MalPina Chan and Nancy Warden for their SOLA Awards and to Sherry Markovicz for the Twining Humber Award!

4Culture Art Project Grant awarded for WITNESS

glamour shot vs film noir

Thank you 4Culture for supporting my new project: Witness

My grandma lived a hard life and worked as a milliner. Her beautiful hats were shared amongst her six sisters who all had their own collections. Over the years, the women in my family have passed down their hats and I have come to have a large collection of beautiful, wacky, sophisticated and esoteric hats. I am using the hat as an icon of women to tell their stories.

There’s a lot of talk currently referring to mid century as “the good old days”.  These harsh and difficult times were good for a privileged few. Witness shares the stories of the other women. I have been recording women in conversation both here and in Ireland. The stories speak to the female condition, those who have passed along mixed with stories of elders and younger women coming of age. I have found certain themes  through collecting the stories, with similarities through time.

I’m excited to see where this goes. It’s a work in progress.


Cill Rialaig Artist Residency

Looking out my window in Cill Rialaig (c.1790). The small cottages sit high on a cliff in the Gaeltacht area of Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, Ireland.  The peaceful quiet is inspiring and feeds the spirit. I wrote, drew, and recorded my writing in the voices of my residency cohort, accents from several countries. The beautiful and compelling sound will be used in an installation about the landscape.