Artist David Franklin revisits, will touch up the 20-year-old works 

David Franklin was just finding his touch as a professional artist when he was commissioned to create pieces for a new playground called KidsUp!  

Schooled in the Northwest Coast Native style, Franklin, of Indianola, saw a dearth of public art on Bainbridge that reflected the island’s first inhabitants and their culture.  

Working with red cedar, Franklin carved a large-format Northwest Coast-styled mask and a smaller eagle, figures that would welcome visitors to the playground for the next 20 years.

“This cultural language is something I speak in support of Northwest Native artists,” he says. “It doesn’t represent me per se, but it is a language I’ve learned … A whole generation of Native artists are coming up who are really vital and doing great things. This is from an era where that didn’t happen as much.”

Now, as the playground’s new iteration takes shape at Battle Point Park, Franklin has been commissioned again, this time to recondition his original pieces for the next generation of play. 

“I never thought I’d be restoring my own work,” he says. 

On a recent visit to the playground, Franklin found his works to be in pretty good shape these two decades on, despite a seasonally tough climate that wore down and finally claimed the wooden playground around them.   

Franklin’s eagle, soaring over an ornamental gate at the playground entrance, has grown a coat of lichen, and its colorful features will be repainted in his shop. The large mask will be restored in place, as will Northwest Native-styled panels over the nearby covered area. 

But the cedar’s weathering and patina will be left largely intact. 

“With certain things, a little bit of the aging is okay. That age becomes part of the work,” Franklin says. “Plus it’s not so precious that you can’t go up and touch it.” 

“We’re pretty lucky to have these beautiful examples of Northwest art at Kids Up playground,” says Doug Slingerland of the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District. “It’s a great privilege to have David help us freshen them up. Our whole mission with this renovation has been to honor the original KidsUp! playground. These pieces are such beloved parts of that original design, it will be wonderful to see them cleaned up and ready to welcome a whole new generation of families.”

KidsUp! launched a career in art

Now an accomplished artist with fellowships and large-scale public installations to his credit, Franklin got his start as a teenage graffiti artist in abandoned rail yards near Denver. It was “undisciplined” art, he says, but it did reveal “a deep-seated desire to connect with humanity, and have a chance to do large-scale installations.”

He moved to Seattle and spent a decade studying under noted regional artist Duane Pasco, credited with helping revive interest in the Northwest Coast school of carving. 

“I’m a white guy from Denver, but my training was in learning Northwest coast art,” Franklin says. “I thought it would be an important thing to learn as an artist, the art that emerged from here. Nobody was doing these things, there wasn’t really any art that represented native people on Bainbridge island at all. It seemed like if you were doing this park about the community, you ought to look at that. It was kind of a way of bringing our history into it.” 

Franklin credits KidsUp! with launching a prolific career. His portfolio has grown to include large-scale public installations including California Rain, a three-story “ripple wrap” of aluminum and steel outside a Marriott property in San Diego; Drift Inversion, a representation of sand dunes placed, incongruously, on the ceiling of Denver-area pedestrian tunnel; and the whimsical Cultural House of Cards outside a youth detention center in Chehalis. 

He continues to explore Northwest Native styles in works like the Tolt River Bridge installation on the Redmond-Falls City Road, and the Pacific Giant Octopus Door and other figured portals at the Kitsap County Administration Building in Port Orchard.   

He still collaborates with Duane Pasco, as well as Native American artists in the Port Gamble-S’klallam Tribe.   

Franklin vividly recalled the KidsUp! playground’s construction. 

“It was pretty cool. Jay Inslee was out here, (former Washington governor) Gary Locke was out here, a lot of great people. You really got to know your community,” he says. “It was a wonderful event, a real community build, and that’s a pretty neat thing. This spot will always have a good feeling because of that.” 

He likes the design of playground’s new iteration, with Salish Sea-themed features arrayed around a giant ferry boat play structure. 

“You guys aren’t messing around, you’ve even got Orcas,” he said, referring to a climbable play feature planned for the playground’s central courtyard. “That’s incredible. This is a pretty nice reimagining of the original vision.”

Franklin’s works are among various pieces saved when the first playground was demolished, to be reintegrated with the new layout. Like the castle towers and covered pavilion, the works will preserve continuity between old playground and new. 

No surprise they’re still here. As Franklin says, “Cedar will last.”