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Arts & Culture

National Register of Historic Places adds first land art — and it's in our backyard

"Untitled Earthwork (Johnson Pit #30)" is a tiered landscape overlooking a city.
Joe Freeman
"Untitled Earthwork (Johnson Pit #30)" was created by artist Robert Morris in 1979 in a former gravel mine in SeaTac.

In an unprecedented move, the federal government has included a contemporary earthwork on its National Register of Historic Places.

And that piece can be found in SeaTac.

“Untitled Earthwork (Johnson Pit #30)” by Robert Morris began as part of a King County Arts Commission – now 4Culture – symposium, Earthworks: Land Reclamation as Sculpture, in 1979.

“Morris removed undergrowth from an abandoned 3.7-acre gravel pit in the Kent Valley, terraced the earth and planted it with rye grass, in effect returning the land to active use,” 4Culture explains on its website.

Washington state architectural historian Michael Houser notes that the listing is unusual and, therefore, a game changer for future selections.

“Listing a property less than 50 years old is quite special, and this is the first project in the United States to use funding from a 1% for Art program for arts-based environmental reclamation,” Houser said. “The nomination will set precedent for others to come.”

Robert Morris was a noted sculptor, artist and writer. His art has been displayed all over the world, including at the Whitney Museum in New York and Seattle Art Museum. He began working in the Land Art movement in the late 1960s. His “modern Stonehenge” stands in the Netherlands. "Untitled Earthwork (Johnson Pit #30)” is his only large-scale land art in the U.S. that has been maintained close to its original form.

It remains a public gathering space. You can see it at 21610 37th Place S., SeaTac.

A man and his dog walk on one of the tiers of Johnson Pit #30.
Joe Freeman
A man and his dog walk along one of the tiers of "Untitled Earthwork (Johnson Pit #30)" in SeaTac.