'Lighting the Way'

Four new arched, painted-glass windows — paid for by the state Percent for Art fund — went up in Southern Oregon University's Churchill Hall Tuesday and are casting lovely and shifting clouds and dots about the stairwells as the sun moves through the sky.

Painted by Alex Hirsch of Portland, the windows "offer a way for people to calm themselves," she says. "I hope they will be soothing and exciting and will help people notice their environment and recharge themselves."

The tall, narrow pairs of south-facing windows, two in each stairwell at opposite ends of the building, show a sun-like rondel of painted dots, while filmy clouds envelope the rest of it, casting intriguing shadows on sunny days.

The painting casts "projections ... a multitude of images, diverse in shape, size and intensity, onto the walls, banisters, floor and staircases over the course of the day and year," says Hirsch, who traveled to SOU to oversee the installation.

Hirsch wanted people in other departments, who don't regularly visit Churchill, to be able to enjoy the work, called "Lighting the Way" — so at night, stairwell lights will be on, allowing passers-by to take it in.

The Percent for Art fund was created in 1975 for public buildings that cost more than $100,000. It is administered by the Oregon Arts Commission, whose collection of public art now exceeds 2,500 works around the state.

The Churchill Hall remodel netted $38,000 for art, resulting in a call for art and competition. The funds paid for creative work, supplies, photography, fabrication and travel. The glass was fabricated in Germany.

The arched and circular figures, she says, echo architectural themes of the Spanish Mission-style Churchill Hall, with its many arched windows, hall entrances and gate. It was built in 1926.

"The experience should be very dynamic for people who live and work on campus, because there are multiple points of view here, in day and night," she notes. "It's like looking at a blue sky. The windows will be a beautiful and timeless part of this campus. When the sun is strong, it will throw images all over and it will change all year based on how high the sun is in the sky."

Hirsch is a painter and glass artist who executes "site specific" works on public and private structures. A native of Chicago, she got her bachelor's degree from University of Michigan and did graduate work at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

"For me, personally, what's most exciting about this work is that it activates and affects the space by casting images that are soft and ethereal, like being inside a watercolor, yet the glass has hardness. It's seemingly static, but it's alive. I'm curious to see all the things that happen with it. It has the potential to affect people long-term because it's here for the long term.

"It offers people a way to calm themselves. ... People notice their environment and will recharge themselves by (getting outside their) obligations and head space momentarily."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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