The studio fabrication and the installation of Native Oaks occurred over a six-month period of time. During this time there were three main components to be produced and installed, the glass leaves, the terrazzo tile floor and the terrazzo acorn sculptures.
The glass leaves were created at Public Glass under the direction of Elin Christopherson. Not having working with glass as a sculptural material prior to this project, I was stoked when Public Glass director Bob Bellucci hooked me up with Elin who was serving as house artist in residence. Elin and I spent a day experimenting with techniques. Elin is an accomplished artist as well as a proficient technician, so with in a short time of pushing and pulling ideas in hot glass, we distilled a process that would express the image that I had in mind for the oak leaves. Each glass leaf was produced by hand in a repetitive yet organic process. In all, 100 variations of the oak leaf were made.
The first day of production came. Elin and her assistants set a furious pace gathering glass and shaping leaves. In the beginning of the production I was relegated to the sidelines for my own safety and for the safety of the production team. Hot glass is a very demanding material. Temperatures of 1600- 2400 degrees Fahrenheit must be maintained in order to manipulate the glass and to keep it from shattering due to thermal shock. As a result the gaffer and her team move very quickly with the material back and forth from the furnace to the working table. The entire time they are working dangerously close to this bubble of liquid fire, the potential for losing the work in the process is ever present.
The intensity of working with hot glass can be seductive. By the second day Elin invited me to join the production team. This was great! It was finally my chance to reach into the fiery depths of the cauldron and pull out a gather of the glowing liquid glass. Elin taught me the basic skills for handling the glass and set me loose gathering, rolling and shaping. Timing and teamwork are everything. An uncoordinated effort can and sometimes does result with the glass slumping off the punty stick onto the floor. For the next several days our team produced the glass leaves.
The first step is to gather a sufficient quantity of glass from the cauldron. Pigment is added and the rough shaping of the leaf begins. About 30 seconds of working time is all that the glass will allow before it cools to unworkablility. It most then be reheated in the furnace. The curve of the leaf is placed in the final shaping. Elin heats the stem of the leaf to remove it from the punty stick. The final step is making a loop to hang the leaf. Then the leave is whisked away to the annelear (cooling kiln).
terrazzo tile floor
The terrazzo floor was the only architecturally mandated element in the rotunda commission. The Roseville Cultural Arts Commission originally offered the terrazzo floor an independent commission project. They later recognized that the design of the floor and the design of the interior sculpture could compliment one another and that together the floor and the sculpture offered the potential for a strong aesthetic installation. Since the floor was part of the skin of the building, I saw that the work needed to speak abstractly about the space and the scale of the room. This opportunity led to my decision to work in repetitive series of objects.
The design of the floor is like a magnetic attractor that holds together all the other art elements in the room. The spiraling pattern of the tiles creates a central focus. With in the spiral, the patterning of the different colors as radiating arms blend and fold into one another to draw attention into the individual tiling. I wanted the floor to have the look and feel of being hand made. To do this, the tiles were individually cut and placed on site during the installation. To create variation with in the colors, they were cast and polished in the studio. (photo 15) During the mixing of stone, pigment and cement, the casting of the tiles were varied from light to dark and to more or less intense color. The result produced hundreds of variations with in a set of about eight basic colors.
Once the tiles were made, the crafting of the floor could begin. In all 888 tiles fit into the floor pattern. The tiles were transported to the job site and categorized by color. The design was laid out and the cutting, fitting and setting began.
Vladi Mamayev the owner of Buildex Inc. Construction assisted with the installation of the floor. Vladi and his crew quickly demonstrated an “old world” level of craftsmanship. As we began to unfold the complexities of the floor pattern, Vladi handled the setting of the tiles with the grace and precision that are rarely seen in the contemporary construction trades. His skill and proficiency setting the tiles allowed me to concentrate on the layout and the placement of the colors with in the spiraling pattern design. The completion of the floor was along the critical path in the completion of the Civic Center construction. Deadlines loomed and space was tight as each of the subcontractors were racing to complete their tasks. Our team worked furiously inside a fortress of uncut tiles. Finally, we completed the circle with set tiles and moved in towards the center of the circle and the completion of the floor.
terrazzo acorn sculptures
With the glass leaves and the tile floor installed, the terrazzo acorns were the final art element to be placed in the rotunda. There are 18 acorns ranging from 3’ to 5’ in length. The shapes and colors vary. The idea behind the acorn sculptures is that they would be a conduit between the floor and the glass leaves. The acorn sculptures are the same material surface as the terrazzo tiles and thus offer a three dimensional association with the floor design. The placement of the acorns in clusters around the lobby is intended to reflect the clustering of the leaves over head. To invite interaction, the acorns are situated in locations that offer sitting or playing on.
The fabrication of the acorns occurred in the studio roughly during the time that the floor tiles were being installed. Each sculpture is constructed over a welded steel cage and a highly reinforced concrete shell. This rigid core supplies the substrate that caries the terrazzo material, the finished surface. The initial size and shape of the sculpture is determined during the fabrication of the steel cage. The final shaping is done during the grinding and the polishing of the terrazzo.
The final placement of the acorns was the key to expressing the design of the work as a whole. The art elements in the rotunda lobby are designed to be viewed from as many different angles as possible and the presentation of the work is intended to be interesting close up or from a distance. Since the acorn sculptures are at a human scale, their function is to draw visitors to different areas of the room and to attract attention both to the other art elements and to the architectural design of the rotunda.
My intent while designing Native Oaks was to generate an installation of sculptural elements that are woven into the unseen space of the interior lobby and there by supply an aesthetic design that is synonymous with the articulation of the interior lobby space. Similarly, the degree to which this design is successful is determined by the ability of this work to function as an attractor to the space of the lobby as a whole.