Artist's Plans On Hold For Hanford Monument

RICHLAND - Artist Jim Acord's plans for a giant monument of the nuclear age at the Hanford nuclear reservation have stalled.

Acord left the Tri-Cities nearly two years ago after he failed to generate enough support for his vision and recently has been working in England.

The studio he abandoned is still filled with faded radiation-warning signs, sketches and nuclear manuals.

"He was the starving artist," recalled Wanda Munn, a retired Hanford nuclear engineer.

She and a few other Tri-Cities scientists shared Acord's dream of an ambitious Hanford monument that could last thousands of years.

His patrons formed a small nonprofit group to buy an old auto-body shop and its half-acre compound for $45,000 in 1991 to be the artist's studio.

The monument was supposed to cover 10 to 20 acres of the Hanford reservation's 560 square miles. Huge stone slabs and unused, rodlike nuclear-fuel assemblies were to be erected on a scale exceeding England's Stonehenge.

Hanford was created by the Manhattan Project to make plutonium for nuclear weapons and now contains a huge volume of radioactive waste.

Acord's plans included scenes of Marie and Pierre Curie discovering radium, and the mushrooming cloud of the first atomic bomb.

But Munn last saw Acord in February 1998, shortly before he went to England for a conference.

Munn first met Acord in the mid-1980s when she and a few other Tri-Citians protested at a Seattle art show.

At the time, Hanford was vilified as a nuclear "bomb factory." Fed up with West-side contempt for anything nuclear, some Hanford scientists decided to picket the gallery's anti-nuclear show.

Acord walked out and invited the Tri-Citians inside.

"Jim defused the situation and got us talking to each other," Munn recalled. The engineers and artists talked about their philosophies and found they saw beauty in much the same way.

"Both physics and art are the search for truth," Seattle sculptor Peter Bevis said.

Such thoughts drew Acord to Hanford. In 1989 he and his wife, Margaret Morrisey, moved to Richland.

He tried in vain to persuade the U.S. Department of Energy to donate land. A Northwest quarry donated two huge slabs of granite. His ideas fascinated people, and he became a popular traveling lecturer.

And there the dream stalled.

Acord's wife, a painter, was used to living among Seattle's metropolitan art community. She hated Richland, and they divorced.

Tight on cash, Acord moved into the body shop. His electricity was turned off. He spent cold winters in the unheated shop, sleeping on a work bench.

College officials in Nottingham, England, approached Acord about being their first artist-in-residence in March 1998.

Acord says his Hanford idea may have been too complicated.

"The whole scale of Hanford is overwhelming. . . . I probably should have taken a smaller, more bite-sized chunk."

His tenure at Imperial College just ended. He does not know if he will stay in England. But Acord's Hanford vision remains.

"Not a day goes by that I don't think about the studio (in Richland). But I can't think of any way to make it work over there. I'm stumped," he said.