In the 1890s, the Tacoma Hotel (located downtown near 9th St. and A St.) kept an 800-lb., pet bear named Jack, aka the Tacoma Bear. The exploits of this nationally renowned bruin, his untimely death – and the uneasy, provisional relationship of humans to nature – are the subject of Jack’s Epitaph, an installation by Lisa Kinoshita at the Woolworth Building.
In 1892, the Tacoma Hotel, designed by New York architect Stanford White, was the Northwest’s finest hotel; Jack lived in a pen between the rose garden and the neighboring firehouse. Raised by humans as a cub, he ate dainties such as “Olympian oysters, Spanish olives…and pommes Hollandaise.” Famously, he had a taste for beer and could hoist a mug like a man. Jack learned to unlatch his gate early in life and would roam the city’s streets untethered until a hotel steward was dispatched to retrieve him. He enjoyed a friendly and curiously non-eventful coexistence with the neighborhood for eight years – until one day he refused to return to his pen and was shot by a frightened policeman. A great public outcry followed.
Jack’s Epitaph is a visual poem about displacement and dislocation, about “shadow figures who survive in the periphery of our memory and our everyday lives,” says Kinoshita. The title of the work was taken from an 1892 poem eulogizing the bear in The Every Sunday Newspaper.
Kinoshita is the founder and owner of Mineral, a Tacoma jewelry studio and art gallery that “explores the intersection between art, design and fashion.” She is the 2010 recipient of the Foundation of Art Award, a $7,500 prize given by the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. When she’s not at the bench she is a freelance writer specializing in art, culture and travel. Jack’s Epitaph, Woolworth Building, 11th & Broadway, through Sept. 24, 2010; www.lisakinoshita.com