We Are All In This Boat Together

The Work of Harold Balazs

Walking along the Cedar River or viewed from the Senior Center sits a stainless steel sculpture installed in 1990 by Harold Balazs. The name, “We are all in this boat together”.

When you first come across this abstract sculpture it’s hard to know what you’re looking at. If you take the time to observe its shape you will make out the boat. Which end is the stern or the bow remains unseen, as is what is dancing around on and around the boat. Leaving me to wonder if what I’m looking at is a boat at all. Maybe it’s just my earthbound mind placing a name to something not meant to have one.

The sculpture is highly visible and sits on one of two huge concrete slabs on either side of the Cedar River. Slabs once used to support a railroad trestle that were abandoned. Here they sat empty for 20 plus years before the Renton Municipal Arts Commission decided it needed some art. 

Harold’s sculpture certainly raises an eye and is not everyone’s cup of tea. Harold had a history with Renton leading into this project. He had previously completed an enamel metal mural on the exterior wall of Fire Station #11 in 1979. Another abstract scene, and my personal favorite piece within the Cities Collection.

Ohio born in 1928, Harold grew up on a farm during the depression. He learned metal fabrication and design working for his Dad and was encouraged to pursue his interest in art by his Mother. Which he did, majoring in Art at Washington State University. Harold created a life for himself in Mead, just north of Spokane. In his studio, he launched a career for himself using drawings, paintings, fabricated metals, produced enamels, and fashioned sculptures.

A man dedicated to his craft

Harold showed great dedication to what he did. He worked every day until his passing in 2017. I have always been drawn to Harold’s work because it reminds me of my childhood. There is something very free form about his work that makes it iconic of the 1970’s abstract world. He has many large public pieces on display throughout Seattle that represent a large scope of his work. Varying techniques and vibrant enamels have decorated buildings such as 

  • the Washington Mural Building
  • the First Avenue entrance of the Federal Building
  • the UW Tubby Graves building
  • the UW intramural Activities building. 

An Artistic Voice for our State

He is equally celebrated in Eastern Washington where his work can be seen everywhere. A true artist who was never worried about fame or fortune. Someone who created to create. he claims to have never used a resume because he never knew what would come from his next piece and felt resumes showcased who he had been, not who he wished to become.

Balazs had a deep appreciation for architecture, mythology, and history. His goals were always to create a sense of wonder in all he did.

Well, he certainly did for me. With nearly six decades of work to show for himself all across our state, I believe his message still shines through.

We have much to thank Mr. Balazs for, as he served three terms as a Washington State Arts Commissioner, and helped to draft the state’s percentage for the arts legislation. He believed and fought for the arts. Understanding that the journey we are all on is in itself our own abstract piece of art not easily understood by everyone who sees us. 

A Message with Meaning

I was walking along the Cedar River to break up my day as I entered month two of Isolation during the COVID19 pandemic. As always, I took a moment to observe this piece of art and was struck by how valid it is today. Everywhere you turn you hear people saying how we’re in this together. This is as true today as it was 30 years ago when this sculpture was installed. As true as it will be in another 30 years. We need each other. We always need each other, and as we sit in our homes quarantined we see this more clearly than ever.

Art has a unique way of reminding us the simple truths in life. Things that are so universal to us all, as necessary as breath for our life force. Art speaks to us all in such a way that it feels like we’re having a personal experience with it, yet it holds the same truths for others as well. Separate but together. 

After my walk I decided to look into Harold’s Life, I found a quote by him that spoke so true to my recent thought process on his work, 

“I’m not concerned what people call it (his work)as long as it provokes wonder.” He says, “What artists make isn’t important, but they need to decorate the world and cause surprise.”

The shapes he uses seem to bring back symbols from a lost memory and leave me with room to wonder. I love this aspect of art and feel privileged that Renton has two-pieces of his world of wonder for us to enjoy.

Renton Pieces

Untitled by Harold Balazs. The enameled metal mural on the exterior wall at Fire Station #11 was a 1979 One Percent for Art fund. Fire Station #11 is located at 211 Mill Avenue South.

We Are All In This Boat Together by Harold Balazs. This stainless steel sculpture was installed in 1990 along the Cedar River Trail at the Renton Senior Center, 211 Burnett Avenue North. The project was purchased by One Percent for Art fund.