Feature Article - September 2002
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Art Works

Adding interest, character and beauty to blank walls and barren spaces

By Stacy St. Clair

School looks

Not all interior designs, however, need to be as lavish or honor the history of something as grandiose as a naval air station. When Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., opened its $15 million recreation center in April 2000, designers created an atrium to reflect the freshness and openness of the Minnesota prairie.

The 80,000-square foot facility was built into the hillside, at the mouth of the school's 800-acre arboretum. Architects added numerous skylights, to give the place a sunlit, natural atmosphere. They also constructed a rock-climbing wall in atrium to amplify an outdoorsy, back-to-nature ambiance.

Carleton's interior designer, D. Mariea Guthrie, insisted the atrium include some of vegetation found in the arboretum. After 40 years of decorating campus buildings, Guthrie has a policy of ensuring her buildings share a connection. Even if several decades separate them, she wants history and the college's commonalties to unite them.

"My philosophy is the design should always incorporate Carleton's past, present and future," she says.

Art projects

The easiest way to pay homage to a facility's past is with artwork. In some cases, it's as simple as Glenview's terra-cotta mantelpiece. Others are more elaborate, such as the three relief sculptures on display at the Dublin Community Recreation Center in Dublin, Ohio.

The central entrance rotunda of the Bartlett Community Center in Bartlett, Ill.

The facility's proponents ensured historic art would be included in the suburban Columbus facility by hiring an artist to work in tandem with the architects. The artist gave invaluable input on where the sculptures should be placed and how to design the spaces to best present the pieces. The arrangement guaranteed the art would look like an integral part of the facility, not a last-minute decorating decision meant to cover bare walls.

The three pieces, completed in 1996 by area artist Andrew F. Scott, were a series of low-relief sculptures composed of mild steel, brass and mirror. The first piece, titled "Charting History," is located in the center's entry hallway and reflects the growth of Dublin, with three large abstract maps from the 1792, 1842 and 1996.

The second, called "Running Man Frieze," is located along the side of the running track. It pays tribute to the facility's purpose with a depiction of a running sequence. As patrons jog by the sculpture, the sequence creates illusionary motion and makes joggers feel as if they have someone running alongside them.

The third sculpture puts a new spin on the tried-and-true time capsule. Obligatorily dubbed "Community Time Capsule," the piece features photographs Dublin residents, past and present, enjoying all types of recreation. To ensure it will continue to record the city's athletic history for years to come, the piece includes a trophy case with space left for future athletic accomplishments.