Artist hopes family, neighbors find healing in officer memorial


by OWEN LEI / KING 5 News

Posted on October 31, 2010 at 10:28 AM

Updated Sunday, Oct 31 at 2:25 PM

SEATTLE - To Judy Blanco, her yearlong project was not just a tribute of stone, brick, and foliage. She recognized the heavy responsibility she had to her neighbors and her city.

"I feel honored and grateful that I could contribute," said Blanco, a Seattle artist and landscape designer. 

Today, Seattle's Leschi neighborhood will unveil a 32-foot by 4.5-foot sidewalk memorial at 29th and Yesler Way.  It will mark the spot Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton was killed on Oct. 31, 2009.

Blanco will be the first to tell you that the project is a collaboration of ideas on how to honor Officer Brenton.  The memorial includes a raised patch of evergreen plants and a memorial tree surrounding a stone badge cut in half by a band of black granite.  Carved into the stone is "6699," Brenton's number.

Protruding from the badge is a list of words, such as "philosophical," "brave," and "husband."  They are all suggestions that came directly from Brenton's family, said Blanco.

The memorial committee said they've raised about $25,000 for the project, an amount covering both construction and maintenance costs for about ten years.

"The hope is that people feel this is somebody they're connected to in some way, another human being," said Jeff Floor, one of the neighbors behind the project. "This was a regular person just like you and me."

Blanco lives up the street from the intersection where Brenton died.  She said within a few weeks of the incident, neighbors were already talking about a permanent memorial to replace the hundreds of flowers left by citizens and fellow officers in the wake of his death.

Working with a basic sketch from neighbor Robert Cipollone, Judy volunteered a few sketches. One of them included more hard-sculpted elements like stone, while the other included more plants.  Neighbors appeared to prefer the plants, and Blanco said such a memorial would allow the community to continue to nurture it over time.

"We also showed them to community members at meetings and at potlucks," she said, "and I would incorporate everyone's ideas and feedback."

As the project evolved over the next year, the basic elements -- the small garden, a memorial tree, and a centerpiece -- stayed the same.  But the centerpiece, which Blanco said started as an ellipse, started to seem too abstract, she said.

"It didn't say enough about what this thing was," she said. "And so I just tried out the badge."

Floor said she called him over soon after.

"She had this up on the wall, this drawing," he said, "and I thought, 'That is so literal I shouldn't like it at all,' but it really hits you at a gut level."

The plants represent life and a neighborhood's growth beyond the tragedy, Floor said, while the badge reminds you of the fallen hero and the words remind you that, beyond the badge, Brenton was also a fellow human being.

Sunday's dedication ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Seattle Police Chief John Diaz and Officer Brenton's family are expected to be at the ceremony.