28 March 2010

CASE STUDY: Glass Sculpture as Public Art

If you have been following the ongoing story of the Washington Glass Studio's design and progress of the installation of Prince George County's Upper Marlboro courthouse glass public art sculpture - the installation is almost complete. As described in the June 2009 blog posting -
The historic 1939 Circuit Court building was devastated by fire in 2004, completely destroying the ornate Duvall Wing. The old bell tower that was atop the portico entry had been reduced to the structural frame and the historic bell within had crashed down to the ground during the fire.
The cupola's 124-year-old bell fell through the second floor during the fire and was buried in the rubble. (photo: Mark E. Brady -- Prince George's County Fire/emergency Medical)
For a number of years, during the renovation of the courthouse, the bell tower structure continued to deteriorate on what had become a construction site for both the courthouse expansion and the renovation of the damaged courthouse.
The structural remains of the original 1939 bell tower cupola.
In 2008 Prince George's County asked two of the artists that had made artwork for the interior of the Marbury Wing court expansion to collaborate and come up with some concepts for the front entry courtyard of the refurbished court building as it neared completion; Washington Glass Studio and Alonzo Davis. Early on, the decision was made to restore the original bell tower cupola as the centerpoint of the public artwork sculpture, and that informed the many design concepts explored. Infill panels made of cast glass with courthouse/legal imagery, sandcarved glass infill panels, backlighting with computer controlled LED panel lighting effects, neon lighting - were some of the many different ideas that were explored and the design options were narrowed down, documented and presented to the courthouse committee, headed by Circuit Court Judge Sheila Tillerson-Adams.
Different concepts of integration of lighting and cast recycled glass were explored.
Titled "Rebirth and Renewal ", the concept was modified with input from the judges and the committee, and in late 2009, the original steel structure and copper dome top was restored and set into a new paved area outside the courthouse, near the main courthouse entry. Glass began being cast into bas-relief panels with imagery based on the courts, the legal system, Prince George's County, and the original court building.

Cast bas-relief panels made from recycled glass were made with court and community based imagery. Michael Janis begins coldworking the panels. Nicole Puzan installs the cast textured panels into the steel framework.
Steel frames were made for the glass panel infill support. Neon artist Marty King made a neon representation of the original bell of the bell tower, which, by tradition, was struck at 9.30 am each day court was in session. An engineer certified the original bell tower cupola's structural integrity for the modifications and reuse. Custom benches for seating around the artwork were started. The chamfered corner panel infills were designed to incorporate detailed county seals representing the counties served by the Circuit Court. These panels were clear, with deep, intricate sandcarved panels. In December of 2009, all the elements were coming together, and installation of the cast glass began.

Erwin Timmers tests the neon. Erwin Timmers and Alonzo Davis bolt the infill panels to the steel structure.
During the installation, the Washington, DC area was hit by two snowstorms that dumped the largest amount of snow ever recorded in the area's history, and installation had to work around the snow removal efforts.

The names of the Circuit Court refurbishment committee are acknowledged in sandcarved panels mounted in the glass and steel sculpture. The cast recycled glass alternates with clear glass to allow alternating views looking into the neon bell sculpture and allowing diffused lighting from the neon to illuminate the cast glass symbols.

The final elements were recently installed, and the neon switched on. In the next couple of weeks, the professional photos of the cast glass public art sculpture will be taken by Anything Photographic - and we will post. The photos of the artwork are now online - Click HERE to jump to photos of the finished work.

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