Chico artists find public-art opportunities in Sacramento
“Public art gives you the opportunity to make art that you could never afford to build otherwise,” said Pat Collentine recently, seated across the kitchen table of the spacious custom-built home/studio he shares in the Avenues with his art and life partner, Susan Larsen.
Collentine and Larsen are members of a growing group of prominent Chico artists—including sculptors Sheri Simons and Michael Bishop, award-winning glass artist Elizabeth Devereaux, glass and metal artist Owen Gabbert, and prolific, widely known public artist Dayton Claudio—who are making a name, and money, for themselves by making public art for the city of Sacramento.
Sacramento is right up there with Seattle and Minneapolis as one of the nation’s leaders in public art. An article in the June 7 Sacramento Bee pointed out that Sacramento’s Art in Public Places collection contains a whopping 750 pieces, thanks to a 1979 city ordinance (later extended to the county of Sacramento) requiring a developer set aside 2 percent of construction costs for public art.
Larsen and Collentine, who got their public-art start in Chico with a bench and sandblasted walkway project at the Chico airport in 2000, are completing the final touches on their huge steel-and-glass “Bell Pagoda,” the largest of the public-art pieces installed in the beautiful Fremont Community Garden at 14th and Q Streets in downtown Sacramento.
It’s the second public-art installation the pair has done for the River City. Their first—a large, three-screen, metal-sculpture/photography installation in Regency Community Park—was finished in 2006.
The “Bell Pagoda” was partly modeled after an earlier, smaller piece the couple exhibited at a Chico State art show in 2007, a wood sculpture of an inverted Bell curve called “Real Time.”
“The Bell curve is such a harmonic form,” explained Larsen. “And, we wanted to bring our gallery-work ideas into our public-art work.”
The pagoda shape is a tribute to Sacramento’s Asian history, added Collentine, who grew up in Sacramento: “This specific area [where the Fremont Garden is located] used to be Japantown historically.”
The 17-foot-high sculpture will serve as a place for visitors to the garden to sit and enjoy the changing interplay of light and shadow provided by the shifting sunlight shining on the concentric metal and glass circles of the pagoda.
“At high noon, the ground is in full shade,” explained Collentine. “As the sun moves, scallops of blue, black and white light and shadow move across the ground.”
“I think there’s a whole transformation going on in art as far as how we make money,” observed Collentine, of the movement of gallery artists toward public art. “You can get $60,000 on a public-art commission. You’ve got to sell a lot of art in a gallery to make $60,000.”
“Artists take a loss on most exhibitions they do,” said Larsen. “There were two exhibitions where we sold nothing.”
But even in the public-art realm, Larsen explained, the artist ends up making a small percentage of the actual commission, after paying the necessary costs of a structural engineer and liability insurance, and all the other expert helpers—metal fabricators, tile layers, pool contractors (for fountain projects), and so on—depending on the project.
There’s also “a lot of process to public art,” said Collentine. “We made our proposal over a year ago, and we’re just now installing it.”
Gabbert, known in Chico for his pair of metal “horns” jutting from the ground in City Plaza, has done two commissions for the city of Sacramento. His abstract, blue-and-transparent, leaded-glass windows for the cutting-edge-design water treatment facility in Elk Grove in Sacramento County are stunning.
He explained the natural attraction between Chico artists and the Sacramento public-art scene.
“We’ve always had [in Chico], just by the nature of the town and the college, quite a bit of art going on,” said Gabbert. “And Sacramento has a lot of opportunities.
“These are hard times for everybody,” Gabbert summed up. “But, in a way, it’s always a hard time for an artist. Public art is a viable niche to market your work. Here’s an arena where they’ll pay you a living amount of money.”