Sky River Trees


Client: City of Olympia, WA | Art in Public Places

Location: Olympia, WA, United States

Completion date: 2012

Artwork budget: $65,000

Project Team


Miller Hull Partnership, LLP

Interior Designer

Portico Group - Exhibit Design


Koryn Rolstad

Koryn Rolstad Studios


The newly built Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, WA realizes a community’s long-term environmental educational vision. Its mission is to stimulate curiosity, creativity and learning through fun, interactive exhibits and programs for children, families and school groups.

‘Sky River Trees’ welcomes visitors with six 27’ 'trees' arranged in two stands of three, an environmental sculpture tying the Museum grounds to the nearby Sky River water-way, Puget Sound and its estuaries. The interactive installation covers two areas: the Museum’s main entrance and public plaza, and a side site adjacent to the parking from which visitors emerge and begin their experience.


Integration with the architecture of the new Museum facility was certainly a priority, in tandem with designing an environmental sculptural installation for the community that would support the Museum’s education goals. We achieved a visual language that supports learning in culture, history, eco-systems and natural phenomena.

‘Sky River Trees’ honors the original Squaxin Island Tribe (People of the Water) and their reverence for the natural surroundings of this area. The six 27’ ‘trees’ hold up the river to the sky, echoing the region's natural surroundings. ‘Sky River Trees’ offers unique interactive day and nighttime experiences. During the day, light refraction from the sun and ambient light reflects the many-colored 'bubbles' from the tree-like river sculptures, casting the bright colors of the river image and shadowing onto the plaza surface. At night, LED lighting enlivens the 'trees', which can be seen from vantage points in the community and by passing traffic. The installation is made of powder-coated steel posts and colored translucent eco-resin bubbles and waves.

The new plaza also incorporates a community garden, opportunities for exterior educational experiences and its own small brook.


This project experienced a distinct evolution from its initial RFQ to its final design, thanks to implementation of the public art process. The initial design included a large decorative gate and fencing system that separated the Museum’s exterior from the public environment. This solution turned out to be problematic and Koryn was allowed to explore a totally different direction.

Koryn chose to respond to the educational mission of the Museum in collaboration with stakeholders, developing ‘Sky River Trees’ as an alternate proposed design. Her concept was a contemporary visual language to convey the close relationship between regional tribal culture and the natural environment as a fun and interactive project solution.

The active collaboration between the Architect, Museum Directors, City of Olympia Arts Commission and the exhibit/landscape Designers allowed Koryn to push the visual boundaries of exterior sculpture as an environmental experience, in order to serve multiple educational objectives. By providing a compelling public plaza, the Museum is integrated with the greater community, inviting engagement with formal visitors and those informally enjoying the plaza.

Additional Information

The project budget was very low for this size of an installation, $65,000, including all design work, engineering, fabrication and installation. Bubble and Wave elements used 70% recycled PETG translucent colored resin. Koryn’s work develops layers of similar 'component' forms, combined into separate larger 'elements' and installed as one 'system'. Her early education provided the wonderful opportunity to study with Buckminster Fuller, setting the tone for her own design sense. Through this approach, Koryn fabricates and installs environmental sculptural installations covering a larger area, expressing a visual language unique to the community while responding to the natural environment.