Photo by Aaron Newton // Los Angeles-based artist Jesse Small fits a panel of galvanized steel into place near Bellamy Hall on Western Oregon University’s campus Sept. 18. The installation was paid for by the Percent for Art program.
September 24th, 2013
Polk County Itemizer-Observer
By Aaron Newton
MONMOUTH — With its towering sequoia and fir trees and ample greenspace, Western Oregon University has always been known for its natural beauty.
Through the Oregon Arts Commission Percent for Art program, Western has another addition to its beauty, this time in the form of a world-class piece of public art installed last week.
Passed in 1975, the Percent for Art legislation funds the acquisition of public art for state buildings with new construction or renovation budgets of more than $100,000.
“The thing that is cool about it (the piece) is you can see it from so many different vantage points,” Saralyn Hilde, OAC project manager, said. “As people are walking they will be able to see it from a lot of different places.”
Tucked behind the recently renovated Bellamy Hall, the newly installed work joins an estimated 50 existing Percent for Art projects at Western.
Los Angeles-based artist Jesse Small was awarded the commission in January for the project after being chosen by the 10-person art selection committee at Western.
A firm believer in the importance of public art, Small was applying for projects across the country when he was granted the project at Western.
“You have to be willing to work anywhere,” Small said. “Each project is so important.”
The work was actually part of a prior piece Small created for a show in New York.
However, that show was not a permanent display, unlike its new home, requiring many more added steps and a lot of long days and nights.
All told, Small estimates he spent 1,000 hours from concept design to the actual installation, transforming the piece from gallery work to permanent display.
“I try not to keep track of hours, it’s too depressing,” Small said. “I had to build a 3-D model of the area from the architect’s rendering. That was at least 200 hours.”
Small describes the work itself as “drawing with steel.”
The entire piece is comprised of 10 galvanized steel panels and several connecting pieces to create a singular flowing work, all mounted to a concrete wall.
Small used a computer numeric control (CNC) machine to cut out large portions in the panels and a hand-held plasma cutter to do smaller sections.
The result was several symmetrical panels that could be arranged in an almost infinite number of ways.
“There was no set pattern. It was mostly on-the-spot decision making,” Small said. “In nature, symmetry is seductive but when you have true, absolute symmetry, it’s cold. I wanted to have some symmetry but also break it up.”
About 25 artists applied for the project, even with a small $13,000 budget.
The 10-person selection committee of Western staff and faculty weeded through the artists before choosing Small.
With the completion of the DeVolder Family Science Center, the Percent for Art process will begin again and Western will add another piece of public art to its collection, likely sometime next year.
“It’s exciting that Western has a new science building and we’re excited to get started on that probably in October,” Hilde said. “I facilitate projects at mostly the southernmost state schools. It’s crazy right now.”