Public Art Commissions – Patiently waiting with bated breath
– Although my recent public art commissions began with a request for proposals with the projects being awarded through a jury process, the first couple ‘fell into my lap.’
The first was in 1981, during my last year at Naguib School of Sculpture. Triton College reached out to students to commission portraits of prominent Americans with history in the Chicago area.
I chose Frank Lloyd Wright from the list and completed two portraits in fired clay, one of which went to the college.
I sold the smaller one many years later at an Art in the Park show in Blowing Rock, NC. A few years ago, I received correspondence from an administrator at the OAD Archives, saying they had purchased the portrait from the estate of the person I’d sold it to and inquiring whether I was the artist.
I made my second piece of public art for the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, in 1984. It’s a woodcarving of a rising phoenix made from the upper portion of an old cedar power pole and the first of my more significant public art commissions.
Ron Senungetuk, the head of the art department and a well-known Alaskan artist, was coordinating the commissioning of six works of art for the campus and asked if I’d like to participate.
I could choose the subject and location of the sculpture, which now stands in the entryway to the Regents Great Hall, on a base I made from a section of steel pipe.
Every few years, when I visit the Great Hall and no one is looking, I turn the carving on a hidden swivel to display it in a different position.
Aside from a small wood carving I made for a Lenoir, NC hospital, it wasn’t until I was returning to Alaska that I began submitting public art proposals.
As is typical for competitive calls for art, I’ve submitted far more applications than commissions received. Yet, each public art opportunity is a chance to hone my design skills and ability to integrate my ideas and artistic experience with a specific location and its requirements.
However disappointing rejection may be, I benefit from the practice and add to my ever-growing library of drawings, many of which I modify for subsequent proposals or make to sell in our gallery.
My first ‘big’ public art commission came in 2016. After submitting my proposal and the requisite period of waiting with bated breath, I received a welcome email: ‘Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that the Denali Park Art Committee has selected your proposal for the visitor center project.’
After making a few modifications at the suggestion of the art committee and 500-plus hours in the studio, I was ready to install ‘Through Your Spotting Scope’ in the Kesugi Ken Interpretive Center. You can see this heat-colored steel and fir public art mural at mile 135.4 Parks Highway just north of Talkeetna.
In 2017, I was chosen to make a large wall piece for the foyer at Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, AK. I modified the design for ’Salmon Stream Table,’ the first commission I’d made in my Homer studio.
Instead of the flitch-cut cherry boards I used for the table, I cut two S-curved stream banks out of wide cottonwood boards sawn from fallen trees on our land.
A couple of years and many unchosen proposals later, I got the commission to make a public art piece for a Homer, Alaska, pocket park.
The origin of my ”Nor’easter” design began with a trip to Massachusetts to mold the top of a large boulder so I could accurately mount three bronze crows onto it.
As I mentioned in a recent email, I arrived in Gloucester after much delay on the tail of a winter storm. I could look out my bedroom window at the remnants of the enormous waves.
While waiting for the foundry to cast the bronze crows, I had a private commission request, resulting in a design for a man rowing on the high seas. It was to sit on a high shelf behind a fireplace in the living room.
That commission never came to fruition, but I later modified the drawing for the stainless steel engraving, which now reflects the sun and headlights shining across Pioneer Avenue beside the Homer Volunteer Fire Station.
Many public art RFPs consist of multiple locations. When I submitted my proposal for the Dr. Paul John Calricaraq Project, a new hospital in Bethel, I submitted public art ideas for 12 or more pieces. Several were existing works or proposals to make a similar piece sized to fit the particular space.
Here, you can see part of the folder structure for organizing my public art proposal.
They accepted my ‘Seal Moon Rising’ design for a 12′ wide heat-colored steel mural with the stipulation I redraw the kayak to match those used in the region. After consulting a coastal kayak builder, I redrew the design using the correct style for the boat and implements.
The Alaska-themed metal wall art hangs in the primary care waiting area.
Aside from the Pratt Museum Botanical Garden signs, my most recent public art commission was for the Willow Library, which is also along the Parks Highway.
The 9′ wide layered steel and wood wall piece is the largest of the three versions I’ve made of ‘The One That Got Away.’
Interestingly, I made the original drawing in North Carolina in 2000 for my first public art proposal since moving from Alaska.
We were moving to Homer during the construction of the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. I got the idea for the design from a 13′ long, double-curved forked cherry board I’d cut from logging waste.
You can see the same board in the background of the original Nor’easter drawing above.
I didn’t get that first One Percent for Art commission I applied for, and it would be many years before I used the design to make a finished piece.
I currently have a couple of public art proposals in review—one for the Anchorage Police Station and the other for the Anchorage Senior Center.
The Senior Center is looking for a playful design concept that celebrates the local flora and fauna and honors the volunteers who donated time in the center gardens.
Here’s the public art idea I submitted:
Back to waiting with bated breath…