Arts & Entertainment

New artwork along the Prairie Line Trail is a nod to downtown Tacoma’s history

“All the Rivers in the World” by Vaughn Bell

The new painted aluminum art fixture, “All the Rivers in the World,” — positioned along the UW Tacoma portion of the historic Prairie Line Trail — resembles a river, and reflects the deeply rooted heritage of the land on which UWT sits. 

Once the site of the Puyallup tribe, modern Tacoma sits on land where the original population was made up by a majority of immigrants. According to the podcast “Move to Tacoma” in an episode featuring Margeurite Giguere, this area once housed the largest population of Japanese immigrants per capita. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the induction of internment camps, these people were ushered out of the city along Pacific Avenue. 

The art fixture is a partnership between the Washington State Arts Commission and UWT, designed by Vaughn Bell. In a statement about the artwork released from the artist, the rich history of this area is explained. 

“The Puyallup River, our local river, is the original line and continues as life-line. Its name is also the name of the original people of the place,” explained Bell. “‘All the Rivers in the World, Tacoma’ is a public art project that reflects on the Puyallup river as life line and connector. It also emerges from the current life of Tacoma and the university: as a cosmopolitan place, home to many immigrants, people from all over the world. This idea has a precedent even before the site was a university.” 

The artist putting the finishing touches on the mural.

The location on which the artwork was installed reveals even more significance when the history is considered. provides a virtual walking tour of the trail, as well as a description of the trail’s history. 

“Signed into being by Abraham Lincoln, built with the toil of immigrants, on land stolen from the S’puyal?pabš (Puyallup Tribe), the Prairie Line has stories to tell,” the website reads. “This stretch of track is the western end of the Northern Pacific Railroad. It’s also where ideas, cultures, people, and technologies collided to make the Tacoma of today.”

“In short, it’s Tacoma’s history in 5,280 feet,” the website says. 

On the artwork, the names of the rivers are all derived from community submissions. They are arranged roughly in geographic order, with the rivers closest to Tacoma being nearest to the mouth of the river, the UWT news site reveals. 

Made up of 33 separate aluminum panels, the installation stretches 250 feet along the trail. This artwork is a quiet reminder of the years that led up to UWT being an urban-serving, diverse home to many ambitious students from thousands of unique backgrounds. The culture of UWT much reflects the history that is in the soil beneath it.

A portion of the 250 ft piece made by Seattle artist Vaughn Bell.