Lake Washington Palimpsest

Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner, WA 2009 Bellevue College Gallery Space, Bellevue, WA 2015

A long term research project chronicling the environmental impact of the Montlake Cut on Lake Washington through large format pinhole photographs, non-recursive sound installation, video, blog and artist book The work was originally exhibited at the Museum of Northwest Art, La Conner in 2009. In 2015, Bellevue College Gallery hosted the work. That exhibit included previously unpublished pinhole photographs and a video, along with additional materials developed for this showing. Supported in part by 4 Culture Special Projects, Allied Arts Foundation, Jack Straw Productions Artist Support Program.

Ellen spent two years exploring Lake Washington and the effect upon its shores, wetlands, and tributaries of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the digging of the Montlake Cut completed in 1917. Like a palimpsest, different environmental histories were written and erased, and new ones inscribed atop and around the Lake.

The Lake was lowered nearly nine feet; the shoreline reduced by 8 miles; 1000 acres of wetlands lost; and the Black River disappeared. Ellen uncovered these layers in an exhibition that charted the history of the massive project and its ripple effects over decades, with large-scale pinhole photographs and field recordings made over two years, complemented by mapping and wall text.

The exhibition juxtaposed the poetics of place to the historic truths of the alteration of the Lake. A blog chronicled her laborious process of creating the work, including the many false starts and dead-ends in the research. It includes the history, sound samples and selected photographs.

The limited edition book compiled all this and more into a visual and verbal exploration. Through sequential color spreads, intimate black and white pinhole photographs, and narrative, it revealed the environmental consequences of this audacious intervention on this iconic northwest landscape.


Listen to an excerpt from the soundscape.