Forest bathing guide Ellen Falconer’s picture of visitors to the Memory’s Vault art installation at Fort Worden is among the photos in a new book. (Ellen Falconer)

Forest bathing guide Ellen Falconer’s picture of visitors to the Memory’s Vault art installation at Fort Worden is among the photos in a new book. (Ellen Falconer)

‘Memory’s Vault’ to be celebrated by artist, poets

Two events this weekend in Port Townsend

PORT TOWNSEND — Memory’s Vault, the public artwork in the woods at Fort Worden State Park, acts as an ongoing conversation: between past and present, poetry and concrete, war and peace.

“I had the idea of beating swords into ploughshares, without beating people over the head,” said artist Richard Turner, creator of Memory’s Vault, which stands near the fort’s batteries and bunkers.

A century ago, this was an Army base, part of the Triangle of Fire — forts Worden, Casey and Flagler — constructed to defend the Puget Sound from foreign attack.

Built 26 years ago with state Arts Commission and parks funding in 1988, Memory’s Vault offers a peaceful space. Turner designed it in the form of a garden; its seven 10-foot-high pillars bear poems by the late Copper Canyon Press cofounder Sam Hamill. Tall trees shade the area, and the Pacific Ocean lies just beyond the bluff top.

Turner, now 80, lives in Orange, Calif. This weekend he will return to Port Townsend after many years away. He’ll make two appearances in honor of “Memory’s Vault: The Poetic Heart of Fort Worden,” a new book of photos, poems and essays from Empty Bowl Press of Chimacum.

Along with a reading by several local poets, Turner will give a talk at the Friends Meetinghouse, 1841 Sheridan St., Port Townsend, at 7 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday at 2:45 p.m., a short reception and program will be held at Fort Worden’s Building 305 before a walk up to the site of Turner’s work.

The new “Memory’s Vault” paperback is available at Imprint Books and Wintertexts Books inside Aldrich’s Market in Port Townsend, and from the publisher at empty

In the book, editor Bob Francis describes Memory’s Vault as a hidden place “to listen, to read, to be inspired.” Turner then offers his artist’s statement, along with five Hamill poems and short pieces from 14 other writers who know the place well.

Memory’s Vault’s volunteer caretakers, Zan and Claude Manning, write about their connection; so do former state poets laureate Claudia Castro Luna and Rena Priest, local writers Gary Copeland Lilley and Alice Derry, journalist Ann Katzenbach, Seattle Civic Poet Shin Yu Pai and Port Townsend Poet Laureate Conner Bouchard-Roberts.

Forest-bathing guide Ellen Falconer writes about her feelings for the place. Author Natalie Goldberg, known for “Writing Down the Bones” and other books, came to the fort for a writer’s residency in 2017, and she also contributes a piece. It’s titled “Three Hundred Kinds of Rain;” Goldberg writes about loving the dark sky, the thrumming of raindrops on her roof, the mist and moss.

“There is something else, too, about this public art space,” she adds about Memory’s Vault.

“Something mysterious that pecked at my imagination, that I could never really grasp or fully understand. That is really the wonder of public art and why it is so important in our society.”

Priest, a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, writes about the time long before the military arrived, when her ancestors cared for the land.

“This used to be a garden/It fed us and loved us, and we loved it. We still do —

Or at least the memory of it.”

While Hamill’s poetry expresses the feeling of being a stranger yearning for home, Priest writes that, “This battered earth is our only home … The earth is always the most magnificent gift.”

Turner calls Priest’s response a refreshing counterpoint. His own artwork, he adds, is a questioning of the war apparatus surrounding it.

“I’m a child of the ’60s, and something of an antiwar activist in college,” Turner said.

The idea of contradicting the bunker architecture with a garden, a shrine, the artist said, is at the heart of Memory’s Vault.


Diane Urbani de la Paz is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Port Townsend.

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