Architectural masterpieces line carefully decorated streets, nature explodes in vibrant bursts of color and mesmerizing wonder, and the Willamette River provides a constant, calming presence. Yes, the city of Salem indeed wears its beauty on its sleeve, offering a captivating blend of natural charm and ornate structures. Yet the city’s mesmerizing beauty doesn’t stop there, for there’s a hidden layer waiting to be unveiled, a secret gallery accessible to all – a collection of magnificent and breathtaking landmarks and sculptures scattered throughout Salem, each one a unique piece of art adding another layer of intrigue to the region’s already captivating canvas.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
The Crescent Probe can be found at the Peace Plaza that sits between City Hall and the library. Photo courtesy: Salem Civic Center

Crescent Probe

555 Liberty Street SE, Salem

Recently restored, the Crescent Probe can be found centered in the courtyard between the Salem Public Library and Salem City Hall. The abstract piece created by James Hansen in 1973 features crescent shapes mounted on a circular base. About 20 water jets are present to spray at it and around the basin, creating a breathtaking cascade in the form of a water display. It is truly a remarkable work of art that both commands attention and tempts young and old alike with its potentially playful and cooling waters.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
The Eco-Earth Globe was converted from a 26-foot diameter steel acid storage ball that previously belonged to the Boise Cascade Pulp and Paper Company. Photo credit: Gary Holvorson

Eco-Earth Globe

200 Water Street NE, Salem

One of the more intricate and detailed pieces to be found on a Salem sculpture walk, the Eco-Earth Globe is a massive tile mosaic sculpture that sits at the south end of Salem’s Riverfront Park. This iconic piece of public art took five years and an estimated 30,000 volunteer hours to complete, having been unveiled to the community in June 2003.

The colorful work represents Earth’s geography, peoples, and animals, adorned with more than 86,000 tiles making up continents, islands, and oceans, along with an additional 200 handmade glazed ceramic icons that depict wildlife, cultures, religions, and mythical creatures from around the world. A professional artist created each distinctive tile icon and more than 125 local high school students under the supervision of Eco-Earth Art Director Mary Heintzman. A proclamation to formally recognize the piece’s unveiling date as Eco-Earth Day in Oregon was signed by Governor Ted Kulongoski and thus stands today as a symbol of global awareness, world peace, and cultural diversity.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
Former governor Tom McCall was best known for his dedication to preserving Oregon’s green spaces; the Tom McCall Memorial Statue depicts his love of nature. Photo courtesy: Salem Public Art Collection

Tom McCall Memorial

200 Water Street NE, Salem

Not too far away from the Eco-Earth Globe in Riverfront Park along the Willamette River sits another towering sculpture depicting former Oregon Governor Tom McCall. A beloved and dynamic politician, McCall served as the state’s thirtieth governor from 1967 until 1975 and was best known for passing the historical environmental protection bills that continue to keep Oregon clean and green today.

The Tom McCall Memorial Committee worked in conjunction with the Oregon Community Foundation to create the Tom McCall Memorial, dedicated in September of 2008, that depicts the former govern wading through the Umpqua River, a freshly caught steelhead in one hand and his fly rod in the other; a bronze embodiment of the man who dedicated his life to protecting Oregon’s wild places.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
The lights on Equitas can change between a number of colors, including red, purple, blue, and green as a beacon of light next to the Salem Police Department. Photo credit: Max Rae


333 Division Street NE, Salem

Located outside the Salem Police Department, Equitas was created by artist Blessing Hancock in 2020. More than a work of art, community engagement was an essential component of its creation as the artist collaborated with the Salem community on the project. The surface pattern of this 12-foot high by 18-foot wide illuminated masterpiece incorporates words and phrases that reflect honor, protection, and acts of service, all of which were submitted and suggested by community members through various avenues of collection before being etched into the work’s very surface.

Such words painted into the aluminum include “integrity,” “community,” and “security.” The piece can also be lit up from the inside with interchangeable LED lighting, cementing Equitas as a beacon of light representing justice and harmony as it stands guard outside the Salem police station.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
The negative space between Good Cent’s legs mirrors that of a Coke bottle. Photo courtesy: City of Salem

Good Cents

2100 Ferry Street SE, Salem

Standing in Mill Race Park is an outdoor sculpture that celebrates Oregon’s Bottle Bill, the spirit of community involvement, environmental stewardship, and public-private partnerships known as Good Cents. Oregon’s Bottle Bill was passed in 1971, becoming the first state to offer a deposit for returning empty bottles and cans to encourage recycling. Good Cents was created in celebration of the bill’s 50th anniversary as a collaboration between Oregon artists Lillian Pitt and Mikkel and Saralyn Hilde and is the second installment in Oregon Environmental Council’s “Art of Loving Oregon” series that celebrates the state’s legacy of environmental protection.

The brushed aluminum sculpture stands at 10 feet high. It incorporates the use of recycled materials in its fabrication, with the friendly giant with a colorful face holding a five-cent piece overhead that mirrors a bottle cap. Look closely at the negative space between the giant’s legs, and you’ll notice the outline of a Coke bottle.

Salem Landmark & Sculpture Walk
Similar to the sisal plant the sculpture inspired, the Cien Anos rises like a stalk to represent emergence for Salem. Photo courtesy: City of Salem

Cien Años

200 Commercial Street SE, Salem

One of the latest additions to the Convention Centers’ Sculpture Garden, Cien Años, was initially created for an exhibition organized by the U.S. Embassy and Museum of Contemporary Art in Merida, Mexico, and was then later shown in Lake Oswego’s 2006-07 Gallery Without Walls. Artist Devin Laurence Field was inspired by historical events in the city of Merida, with the city having been founded by conquistadors in the 16th century at a time of religious brutality.

 Though it was not without its struggles, harmony was eventually found, and the city became one of the region’s most long-lasting stable cities, with much of its success being attributed to the export of sisal plants. The 12-foot-tall piece starts at the bottom as a stalk, with a gentle nod to the plant, before transforming into an angel resembling a flower’s blooming.

Having traversed Salem’s open-air gallery, one thing becomes clear: beauty doesn’t exist in isolation. These magnificent monumental narratives, alongside architectural gems and verdant landscapes, weave a tapestry of artistic expression throughout the city. So, the next time you stroll through Salem’s streets, remember a masterpiece might just be around the corner.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email