Artist Michele Van Slyke creates an ornamental archway at the new pickleball center at Battle Point Park 

Michele Van Slyke has been creating art on Bainbridge for decades, designing beautifully functional works for public spaces across the island.  

Still, as her latest piece went up at the Founders Courts plaza at Battle Point Park, she mused that it might be her first work in a local park. 

“It is nice to have a piece in one of the parks. It might be my last public piece,” said Van Slyke, who has stepped back a bit from large-scale installations.   

In point of fact, it’s the second. Van Slyke also designed the stamped, fish-shaped placards honoring donors at the Hidden Cove Park pier. 

It is, though, certainly the most prominent – 12 feet high, and wide enough for half a pickleball foursome to pass through abreast on their way to a date on the courts. 

The figured aluminum arch features the icons of the game: whooshing paddles and colored Wiffle balls set in relief against the wire-mesh representation of a net. 

Van Slyke cut out the pieces with a router, then handed them off to local vendors to complete the fabrication. Welding is by Rory’s on Bainbridge Island, with a protective treatment by Kitsap Powder Coating of Poulsbo.  

“We all did our little parts of the job,” Van Slyke said. 

The Park District’s construction team raised the archway in late November, bolting the towering stanchions to concrete pads and assembling the pieces above. Van Slyke had a few pickleball-shaped discs left over, and these were tacked onto the back. 

David Harry, project manager for the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District, said the archway “firmly and beautifully assures players and visitors that Bainbridge Island is the origin of the pickleball sport.” 

Van Slyke and her husband Kent settled on Bainbridge in 1970. After exploring other media and materials, the sculptor settled on metal as her medium of choice and developed a rich portfolio of works through public and private commissions. 

Her specialities: functional works like gates, benches, railings, wind vanes and displays – “things that people can use” – each one unique. 

“I never repeat,” she said. “I’m always interested in something new.” 

Van Slyke earned the 2012 Island Treasure Award, for her public art contributions to Bainbridge Island City Hall, the Bainbridge Island Public Library and IslandWood. Visitors to Virginia Mason, Swedish and Children’s hospitals in Seattle will also recognize her works there.  

Wrote the Island Treasure judges: “For her hospital installation in a children’s bone-marrow transplant waiting room, she translated metal and enamel into air, sunshine and wetland grasses to give the patients and their families the hope for a sunnier world.”

Inspiration for the archway came as pickleballers brainstormed elements for a plaza at the entrance to the six new dedicated courts that debuted in August. Dubbed the Founders Courts, the facility honors Barney McCalllum, Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell, who invented the game in a Pleasant Beach back yard in the 1960s. 

Clay Roberts, promoter for Bainbridge Island Pickleball, said the club wanted an element that “would look and feel significant. I think we all felt that pickleball was a fun and not well-known part of the island’s more recent history.”

“Michele captured both the fun of the game and the significance of its Bainbridge roots in her beautiful design,” Roberts said, echoing the comments of club members. “She was a joy to work with throughout the process.”

Interpretive panels are now arrayed on the approach to the courts, with benches and shade umbrellas to follow along the flagstone path. 

Fundraising is through the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation. Inscribed bricks and pavers for the plaza are still available 

Van Slyke designed the archway and produced a scaled down prototype in February. After COVID delays, the project was green-lit in August and fabrication followed quickly. 

The archway was raised against the staccato thwacks of pickleball play on the nearby courts, leading Van Slyke to consider her next project away from sculpture.  

“Maybe I’ll take up pickleball,” she said. “It looks like fun.”

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