Submitted by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Tacoma is getting a brand-new aquarium with four pieces of public art – and members of the public can watch one of them being created in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. October 27.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Kait Rhoads, right, with Hot Shop Manager and Gaffer Ben Cobb in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop. Photo courtesy: Rozarii Lynch.

Seattle artist Kait Rhoads will work with the Hot Shop team and students from Hilltop Artists to create glass tubing that will make up the 10-foot tentacles and 2-foot bells of three giant glass jellyfish.

Visitors who want to watch can receive a special promotional discount to the Downtown Tacoma museum on October 27. Find details at

The jellyfish installation is one of four pieces of public art commissioned by Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium for its new Pacific Seas Aquarium.

The $51.6 million state-of-the-art building is slated to open next summer.

As Rhoads works with her team to make the tubing that will eventually be threaded onto wire “tentacles,” she’ll be joined by Dr. Chad Widmer, the zoo’s jellyfish aquarist, who is also a glassblower. Widmer will take the mic at 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. that day to talk about the amazing qualities and species of jellyfish and the challenges of recreating them in glass.

Rhoads will be assisted by members of the Hilltop Artists, a non-profit organization allows students from diverse backgrounds to learn the art of glassmaking. As October 27 is a day off for Tacoma Public Schools students, the event offers classmates of Hilltop Artists an opportunity to watch them and Rhoads in action.

In the museum’s Studio, visitors will be able tap into their imagination and creativity as they try their hand at making their own jellyfish.

The work of two additional artists also will be featured in the Pacific Seas Aquarium.

  • Maria Jost, a Tacoma illustrator and science teacher, is creating a marine-inspired mural for installation in the aquarium’s Tidal Touch Zone hands-on area.
  • California-based Gordon Huether is working on two installations for the aquarium’s downward ramps. “Shimmer,” a light projection, will play along the walls and floor, and “Shoal,” a collection of metal fish, will be suspended from the ceiling.
  • Rhoads’ jellyfish will be suspended overhead in the atrium just past the 250,000-gallon Baja Bay habitat, which will be home to green sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, spotted eagle rays and other warm-water species.

The art is funded through the One Percent for Public Art program of Metro Parks Tacoma, which owns and operates the zoo. This program earmarks 1 percent of all public works projects over $100,000 for the creation of public art.

“Metro Parks values public art. The Park Board approved the policy in late 2014, and I’m happy to see it’s already paying dividends,” said Park Board Commissioner Aaron Pointer. “Art inspires people and adds to their quality of life. The new aquarium’s artwork helps tell the story of how we relate to nature.”

Information on all three artists will be on view in the museum’s Grand Hall, along with one of Rhoads’ other glass sculptures.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium
Rhoads’ rendition of how her sculpture will look in the atrium of the Pacific Seas Aquarium. Photo courtesy: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

“I feel honored to be able to create artwork for the new aquarium,” she said. “Researching jellyfish with Chad Widmer has been such an inspiration. My hope is to spread the message of ocean ecology through the wonder of jellies. Working with Hilltop Artists and the Museum of Glass will help create a community connection to the sculpture, as well as to the aquarium, the zoo, Puget Sound and the entire ocean.”

“We’re delighted that we can help bring art like Kait’s to Tacoma,” said John Houck, Deputy Director of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. “Her glass jellyfish sculpture reinforces the message of the Pacific Seas Aquarium, where animals will inspire visitors to take action to protect the world’s ocean.”

Museum of Glass officials are excited about their partnership with the zoo on this project.

“Working on this special event with Kait Rhoads, Hilltop Artists and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium gives our visitors the chance to see jellyfish come to life in the Museum’s Hot Shop,” said Debbie Lenk, the museum’s executive director. “It’s something they will remember every time they see the jellies on display in the new aquarium.”

Hilltop Artists Executive Director Dr. Kimberly Keith agrees.

“This is a really exciting opportunity to collaborate with Kait Rhoads, Museum of Glass and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium on a project that will engage so many people in our community,” she said.

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Zoo members and ticketholders will get half-off general admission to the Museum of Glass October 27-29, while
museum members and ticketholders will also receive half-off general admission to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium October 27-29.

The discount can be obtained by presenting membership card or ticket at the admission desk or window.


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