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Vandals wreak havoc on Carkeek Park artwork

SEATTLE -- The summer sun sparkles like a gemstone, peeking between clouds and teasing beachgoers who walk along the sand. It creates a cascade of Husky purple and Caribbean blue along a fence the color of pistachio green, near a beach in north Seattle.

It also lays the groundwork for Carkeek Park in the summer.

"It's just a beautiful area, just a nice cross-section of the Northwest," said Willie Thomas, who visits Carkeek about once a week. "They do this fairly regularly. It's all sorts of interesting artwork."

The colored tiles are part of the 4th annual art installation at Carkeek, called "Rootbound: Heaven and Earth". It went up in late June, and in the four weeks the exhibit has been there, one-third of the 18 pieces of artwork have been vandalized, damaged, or stolen, curators said.

"It's very tough. An artist doesn't want to put something out in the park that they've worked hundreds of hours on, only to have it taken down," said David Francis, Vice President of the Center on Contemporary Art, which sponsors the exhibit.

Francis was actually at Carkeek on Wednesday afternoon when he saw a fire truck enter the park, but didn't think much of it, given the train tracks that run through the area.

He only later learned that firefighters were there to douse the flames on a large tree - a temporary one, about 18 feet tall. The quilt of cardboard and cardboard staples was called "a shrine of fragile ambitions" by the artist.

The fragile art was no match for whoever set fire to it, investigators said. Seattle Fire believes the blaze was intentionally set, said Kyle Moore, a spokesman for the department.

"In some ways we try to prepare our artists in this show that this is an unsecured setting," Francis said. "It's sort of a radical environment. We're not sure what's going to happen to your piece."

Three other pieces in the park have been damaged and a fourth piece is missing. Half of the colored tiles along the pedestrian bridge - part of another piece - have also been removed.

"It's a shame that somebody spent a lot of time and effort for people to come down here and enjoy it and it's not there anymore," Thomas said, as he looked at the charred remains of the tree. "it's a real mess. I'm just glad it didn't catch any of the (real) trees on fire or anything like that."

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