Tree of Life & Leaves of Remembrance

Artist: Clark Wiegman
Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
Year of completion: 2012
Researcher: Jacqueline White

The world’s first permanent publicly sited homeless memorial, the bronze Tree of Life in Seattle, Washington, exemplifies a trend in public memorials. Whereas the traditional memorial extols civic pride through celebratory tributes to community pioneers, leaders, or war heroes, memorials today increasingly commemorate victims, thereby facilitating community conversations about challenging social issues.

The impetus for Tree of Life emerged from weekly silent vigils held on the steps of the Seattle Justice Center for homeless people who had died on the streets of Seattle or in surrounding King County. Observing that passersby often threw away the flyers that listed the names of the people being honored, the homeless women who organized the vigils, along with their supporters, sought to create something more lasting. Their quest became a nine-year—often-contentious—battle that involved five city departments, included three major redesigns, and culminated in the dramatic overturning, on appeal, of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission’s rejection of the Homeless Memorial Project.

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Where exactly to permanently acknowledge that some Seattle residents died without an address was a major source of the controversy. The location that was the overwhelming choice of the homeless community had been the site of a WPA soup kitchen during the Depression, but was also adjacent to Pike Place Market, the top tourist destination in the city. That the sculpture now stands, dramatically lit at night, in the corner of Victor Steinbrueck Park that is slated to serve as a gateway to a renewed central waterfront, speaks to a process that helped usher in an enlarged civic commitment to fully recognize all of Seattle’s residents.

The Tree of Life sculpture consists of two bronze, wing-like shapes, in which cutouts of leaves suggest a tree form. The tree rises out of a round glass plaza that showcases both the park’s original landscape and a network of roots that glow green at night.

Because a city ordinance prohibits memorials with multiple names in a city park, sculptor Clark Wiegman, landscape architect Karen Kiest, and architect Kim Lokan also created Leaves of Remembrance. The bronze leaves, which echo the cutouts in the Tree of Life, each bear the name of homeless person who has died. Scattered as if by the wind and attached by epoxy to the sidewalks, the leaves acknowledge individual lives while also reminding pedestrians of the reality of homelessness. The location of the leaves and memories about the deceased are catalogued at

Tree of Life helps facilitate ongoing rituals of grieving byserving as a public gathering place for an annual vigil, held each December, for homeless people who have died in Seattle over the preceding year. As more people die without adequate shelter, more leaves are affixed to Seattle sidewalks. Dedication ceremonies for the leaves occasion pilgrimages by family members.

For people who lacked a permanent address during their lifetime, Tree of Life and Leaves of Remembrance serve as an enduring public testimony to their inherent humanity. Because homelessness persists, the sculpture is an ongoing work in progress.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency