TriMet Orange Line: One Tree Trestle

Orange Line public art promotes pride

Created on Sunday, 09 August 2015 09:27 | Written by Anyi Wong-Lifton | 

“I have begun thinking of public art opportunities as research projects and chances to understand a place, material, culture or organization in a more comprehensive way,” Oregon artist Lee Imonen said. “My work as an artist has always focused on telling a story in a new way.” 


TRIMET - Lee Imonen's piece on the Trolley Trail titled 'One Trestle Tree.'

With this theme in mind, the longtime professor of sculpture and design at Lane Community College created the wood sculpture “One Tree Trestle” for TriMet’s Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail (PMLR) Public Art Program. Imonen was inspired by the prospect of repurposing trees taken down along the Trolley Trail to help share Milwaukie’s history through his sculpture. 

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Lee Imonen is pictured with his piece titled 'Integral Framework.'

“One Trestle Tree” was created from a single tree with one half left in its natural state and the other cut, sawed and reconfigured to create an object usually made from wood. Imonen asked that the Douglas fir for his piece have its roots left intact so a trestle bridge appears to be emerging from the tree trunk. The bridge references the Trolley Trail’s history and new rail infrastructure nearby, as well as depicts a metaphorical bridge between the past and the future, Imonen said. 

Most of Imonen’s public art pieces are created for local governments or institutions in Oregon, other states and Japan. For TriMet’s PMLR project, Imonen was inspired by the opportunity to tell the Trolley 

Trail’s story in a new way through his art. He traveled to the Milwaukie area many times before developing his proposal for TriMet. While this sculpture was made for the Trolley Trail, Imonen said its concept resonates with his project “Source Series,” which is composed of several pieces he has created over the years. 

“Have you ever wondered how everyday objects are made? This series of sculptures puts into visual form our dependence on natural materials, and our need to balance our consumption of these resources,” Imonen said. 

“The challenge in creating the sculpture is intended to highlight the transformation of materials from one form into another,” Imonen said. 

He wants people to view public art as more than just sculpture in an open place. Instead, the artwork should engage the public and speak about the actions of the community. Imonen’s goal for his public pieces echoes the Federal Transit Administration and TriMet’s belief that public art helps improve a community’s quality of life, safety and sense of individuality. 

TriMet reserved $3 million of the project’s $1.49 billion budget for public art along the MAX Orange Line that will open this fall. The organization also partnered with the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Clackamas County Arts Alliance to form the Public Art Advisory Committee (PAACC). This panel consists of eight community members who wanted to volunteer their experience in the art world. 

“Committee members act as liaisons with the larger community, they select artists, review concept proposals for artwork, and approve artwork final designs, while the Public Art Program’s staff directs the process and layers of internal review,” said Michelle Traver, the TriMet Public Art Project manager. During the selection process, the panel members participated in numerous elimination rounds and meetings to approve the artwork for their community’s enjoyment. 

The TriMet Public Art Program received 225 responses to its first call for qualified artists in 2010, according to Traver. Five years later, the final plan comprises 25 projects by 26 selected artists that PAAC chose because they “express the uniqueness of the individual station areas, inspire stewardship and foster sustainability,” according to TriMet. 

As a part of the light-rail project, the 25 pieces can be found at more places than the MAX Orange Line. Imonen’s “One Tree Trestle” and six other pieces can be viewed from the Trolley Trail. All of the six sculptures located on the ground along the Trolley Trail, from River Road and Park Avenue, are from trees taken down during construction in the area. 

Over the past four years of light rail and art installation, passers-by may have gotten a taste of some of TriMet’s selected public art without knowing it. Throughout the building process, construction crews put up temporary orange silt fencing printed with “poetic insights and phrases solicited from the general public,” a TriMet spokesperson said. These were a functional part of Buster Simpson’s systemwide art contribution to the MAX Orange Line. Some of the phrases will continue to be displayed as stamped impressions on sidewalks at 122 locations. 

Lynn Basa, a Chicago-based artist, also created artwork that will be featured throughout the light-rail line. She handcrafted the glass mosaic station shelter columns and windscreens featured at all the stops except for Milwaukie/Main Street. The designs on her art pieces are inspired by imagery found at the stations’ locations and natural forms like water and wood grain. 

Artists and TriMet staff members will be available to answer questions at two events in August that are open to the public. From 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 7, community members can join a walking tour of the Trolley Trail and Kellogg Bridge artwork, including Imonen’s “One Tree Trestle.” On Aug. 10 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the TriMet Public Art team will be hosting “Transit on Tap” at Wine:30, 10835 S.E. Main St. in Milwaukie. This event will feature a discussion of all the artwork along the MAX Orange Line. 

You can view more of Imonen’s work at his website and learn more about TriMet’s Public Art Program at


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