Look Up! Look Up!

The young girl commanded her parents as she entered the Texas Discovery Garden for the “Dallas Green Festival.” The entrance to the building welcomed them with a sculpture suspended from the ceiling. “Flower Blossoms” consists of hand-blown glass flowers attached to polished stainless steel stems with wispy mirror polished blades of grass and a shiny steel butterfly. The glass blossoms immediately captured her eye and imagination.

The “Flower Blossoms” sculpture is the first of seven sculptures in this public art installation titled, drugs “imago, look ” depicting the world of the insect biosphere. All the works encourage the visitor to wonder about the insect world they are about to visit. This work, health along with a hundred and one commissions, completed since the beginning of the public Art Ordinance in Dallas in 1989, exemplifies what the 34-member team for Visual Dallas had in mind when they worked to establish an ordinance for public art in Dallas.

Brad J. Goldberg was an artist on the Visual Dallas team. He noted, “Public Art was happening all over the country. Artists were part of the committee and their voices were heard. it was a very energetic time for artists.”

As the public art program has evolved more artists participate; artists, Michael Vandermeer and Cheryl Hamilton, were selected from a field of over two hundred for the Texas discovery Gardens project and the process remains as envisioned by the Visual Dallas Public Art Plan proposal in 1987. The selection process requires numerous levels of review including the selection panel comprised of arts professionals and community volunteers, the public Art Committee, the Cultural Affairs Commissioners with a final approval by the City Council for projects larger than $25,000. In the end many people weigh in before a commission can begin.

The Texas discovery Garden main hall presents six additional glass and stainless steel sculptures that fill the ceiling. One of the largest, “Metamorphosis,” is comprised of glass butterfly eggs and a chrysalis, suspended from a tree burl. It was also one of the more difficult glass pieces to construct. Mike and Cheryl noted, “The glass process starts with full-scale color drawings. We then make 3-dimensional cardboard representations of each piece so that the volume of each glass piece is easier to envision. Sometimes these experiments lead to new ideas, sometimes they lead to rethinking what we had envisioned.”

The fabrication of artwork for a public commission frequently involves teams of people in multiple locations. The glass for this project was blown in both Seattle, Wash. and Vancouver, B.C. Artists Mike Vandermeer and Cheryl Hamilton recalled, “Cheryl met Erich Woll during her time at the Pilchuck Glass School and they formed a friendship. Erich is a Seattle-based glass blower who has incredible skill. This project presented an opportunity for us to work with Erich and his team.”

All the larger glass pieces were blown in Seattle as their production required a team of six glassblowers. “We used Ben Moore’s glass studio. Ben has a tradition of reaching out to the larger art community, and supporting non-traditional approaches to glass blowing.” All of the works are intricately engineered. The artists worked with glass and structural engineers to solve the problems of attaching glass to metal. Each glass shape required a different technique to distribute the forces evenly.

Mike and Cheryl: “We would start with sketches and calculate rough weights and forces to determine the final form of the metal. Glass and metal are both very unforgiving materials. We have spent years working with both and have a good dialogue with the engineers we work with.”

Standing on the landing outside of the entrance to the Vivarium, viewers have a dramatic view of the work suspended in the hall. The Camouflage Pendant, hanging just beyond reach, incorporates shiny mirror-polished butterflies with colorful glass spheres. It contributes to the overall effect of a butterfly garden environment in the entrance hall as a means to imagine the butterfly world beyond the door achieving the artists’ vision of providing a creative reference to the butterfly habitat.

The installation at the Texas discovery Gardens fulfills the desire that public art “becomes a part of the grace and elegance of a mature city” expressed in the opening remarks of the Visual Dallas Proposal.

Jane Bryant, Executive Director of the Garden adds, “Fabricated from a collaborative and organic process, the stunning collection of glass and metal artwork has enhanced the visitor experience to Texas Discovery Gardens and continues to delight the new visitor. Each day with the changing seasons and light in the atrium, visitors are inspired by a constantly evolving spectrum of colors and visuals.”

“Imago” is on view at the Texas Discovery Gardens at Fair Park. Information at www.texasdiscoverygardens.org.

— KAY KALLOS