About 50 Ashland citizens gathered together Wednesday afternoon for the dedication of “Threshold,” a new public art installation on Gateway Island across from the Ashland Public Library’s peace tile sculpture. The installation represents the culmination of an 11-year planning and implementation process that drew both criticism and accolades.
“Threshold” is a large scale public art piece created by Seattle artist Susan Zoccola. It has towering poles and towards the top of the poles, rounded organic features in burnished copper and silver that twist and turn. One person said during an open forum that the work reminded her of “plants as they go to seed and also bubble wands that are also bicycle wheels in an Escheresque way.” On another occasion, an observer remarked that the piece reflected Ashland’s sometimes chaotic public process that ultimately resolves itself, and continued on.
Zoccola’s work is always site specific and for “Threshold” she drew on what inspired her about Ashland: nature, spiraling water, community, movement and cars. “Threshold” draws the eye up and to the sky, the rounded shapes shimmering in the sun. She’s had more public involvement in this project than is customary and has reveled in the conversations.
“The involvement of so many people in Ashland has been key for me. I got lots of feedback, opinions, ideas. It’s a collaboration!” Zoccola said. “I like the fun, the play, the roughhousing — whatever we do to make something happen!”
Some of Zoccola’s work is interactive, positioned close to the viewer demanding attention, calling for touch and engagement. Some, like “Threshold,” create a visual field that reflect the setting, echoing aspects of the landscape’s geometry and lighting. There’s a clean integration of male and female symbolism that pleases the mind. Zoccola’s works are light in texture and design, ethereal, fanciful to delight the eye and always designed with place in mind.
Ashland artist and former Public Arts Commissioner Margaret Garrington is gratified with the work of the commission. “Zoccola’s an incredible artist and every piece she does is different. She creates a piece for the site and you don’t always see that,” Garrington said. “A lot of times you see the artist repeating a theme over and over. And that’s not what we wanted. We wanted something completely unique for this important site here in Ashland.”
Zoccola’s public art includes works in prominent locations in many cities, including Seattle, Portland, Denver and Spokane.
State Rep. Pam Marsh moderated the dedication, acknowledging those who worked towards the installation, and articulating the transformation of space the event celebrated. She commended those involved for “a wonderful and engaging public process that has resulted in our gathering here today.”
“Thanks to the vision of the artist, the tenacity of the Public Arts Commission and the support of the City Council, we transformed this place to something very different,” Marsh said. “We have an entry to downtown, a public space that will become a treasured meeting place in years to come. We have a spot to sit and reflect as your eye follows these tremendous arcs in the sky.”
More than 60 proposals were submitted to the Ashland Public Arts Commission in response to a request for proposals issued in January 2014. The commission conducted six public meetings, including a display at the Ashland Public Library, a First Friday kiosk on the Plaza, an Open Town Hall and relayed public input to four selected artists. Three finalists were invited to Ashland to present their ideas at meetings which were publicized and well-attended.
Zoccola’s design “Gather” was chosen in September 2015 by a selection panel of working artists, art professionals, city leaders and a member of the Historic Commission. The decision drew ire from Facebook commenters. Ashland’s City Council in January 2016 decided to ask that Zoccola submit an alternate design. That design was “Threshold,” which was approved by the City Council on June 21, 2016. The approximate $100,000 cost was covered by a designated fraction of transient occupancy tax proceeds paid by guests at city lodgings accumulated over about eight years.
Email Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at email@example.com.