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'Orbits and Pieces' Combines Art and Science on Mercer Island

Orbits and Pieces, a new public art installation including titanium tanks and fuel lines is now on display.

"Pieces" of space history were formally unveiled as the Island's newest public art display in a Tuesday afternoon reception at the .

"Orbits and Pieces" is a permanent public art installation that includes two titanium tanks and three fuel lines, surplus components originally engineered for the Apollo missions. After the successful moon landing of Apollo 11, the Apollo 18, 19 and 20 missions were cancelled and the tanks were no longer needed.

The two fuel tanks and three fuel lines were aquired through a combination of $6,500 from the city's one percent for public arts fund and a donation from the Cox family on Mercer Island and relatives in California. 

Dale Cox Jr. started collecting the fuel tanks in the early 1970s. According to Cox, he was driving with his wife in California when they spotted a scrap yard that had the titanium pieces. They were easily recognizable because of their unique color. The owner of the yard told him that NASA sold him the pieces, and he was getting rid of them. Cox bought all of the titanium components for 10 cents a pound

Cox’s wife, Pat Cox, featured many of the pieces in art shows down in Laguna, Calif.

Forty-three years later, “a piece of history has found a prestigious home thanks to the Mercer Island Arts Council,” said Cox. Coincidentally, Cox was also an astronaut candidate in 1959.

Cox’s son, Dale Cox III, who lives on Mercer Island with his family, contacted Jane Ditzler the chairwoman of public art for the Mercer Island Arts Council, after his father spoke of downsizing.

Cox III, who also has a number of titanium pieces in his own yard, donated the two large tanks to the city.

“The community center is very busy all the time,” said Ditzler. “So, this is a good place for it.”

The community has already had some interaction with the public art. During this year’s summer celebration, the art council held a contest to name the exhibit. According to Ditzler, 60 to 70 percent of those who voted chose the name, "Orbits and Pieces".

Councilwoman Jane Meyer-Brahm is the liaison between the city and the arts council. “We like the fact that this combines art and science,” said Meyer-Brahm. “It has the historic aspect of being a part of the Apollo … and it also combines an interest in recycling.”

This year, Mayor Bassett has convened a sustainability task force. Orbits and Pieces is a perfect example of recycled art, said Meyer-Brahm.

The councilwoman also added that the money in the one percent for public arts fund comes from development projects in the city and is dedicated to public art. The Cox family’s donation was a big impetus in getting the art installation, she said.  

The public art exhibit "Orbits and Pieces" is located in front of the Mercer Island Community and Event Center.

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