Earning her wings
Chico artist receives commission for art installation at new Sacramento Airport terminal
Sacramento, CA 95814
Lynn Criswell has come a long way as a creator of public artsince her first commission in 1998—a colorful, mixed-media-and-oil, two-panel installation titled “Compound History-Compound Images” that currently graces the lobby of Chico’s Municipal Center.
“When I first got that [$20,000] commission,” Criswell recalled recently, “there were a lot of people who were angry. There were letters to the E-R saying, ‘Why are we giving money to this [project] when we have potholes in the street?’”
She even referred to an unnamed “ex-mayor [of Chico] who said my municipal-building piece gave him a headache.”
But Criswell—a professor of art at Chico State and a prolific painter/sculptor who has shown her studio work throughout the West Coast as well as in Europe—seems to have risen above and beyond the kind of criticism that every local artist seems to be subject to within his or her own community.
Following on the heels of her notable 2003 public-art project for the city of Sacramento—four sets of etched elevator doors for the Capitol Area East End Complex—Criswell is hard at work on her latest public-art commission for the new Central Terminal B at Sacramento International Airport, scheduled to open in early 2012. This is Criswell’s greatest public project by far, in terms of dollar amount (the exact number of which remains hush-hush).
There are more than a dozen artists making pieces for the new three-story terminal, including Colorado artist Lawrence Argent, whose bright-red, 56-foot-tall rabbit sculpture will appear to be leaping through all three floors of the terminal’s atrium into an open suitcase.
Criswell, along with two Bay Area artists—Suzanne Adan and Joan Moment—will be responsible for beautifying the third floor’s actual floor.
Criswell got the plum of a job after being first chosen as a finalist last year by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, as part of its widely known Art in Public Places program, to make a “maquette”—or small-scale model—of her proposed installation idea. Criswell got the final thumbs-up five months ago after going before a panel that included architects, Sacramento city staff and fellow artists.
While Adan and Moment are each installing decorative, glass-mosaic sections of floor on either end, Criswell has the biggest job of the three, a central, 18-by-30-foot terrazzo floor featuring her design of 21 inlaid, aluminum birds—such as the cedar waxwing, spotted towhee, black phoebe and flicker—representing California’s indigenous bird population. An image of a female figure holding a birdcage will also be laid into the floor, and 21 emerald-green, translucent-polyurethane birdcages will hang from the ceiling—each directly above a bird on the floor.
“It’s pretty much a translation from my lead work to aluminum,” said Criswell, referring to her two-dimensional studio work that often features images of animals or children created from paper-thin sheet-lead and added to her thought-provoking, birch-panel paintings.
“I came up with birdcages hanging from the ceiling,” she added, “because I had been working with birdcages in my two-dimensional art. And birds represent flight, airplanes. … I’m trying to create an environment [on the floor and above your head]. You are walking through my environment, versus walking just on it.”
Criswell’s plan is that “the whole thing is to be installed by the end of 2011.” The computer work necessary for the water-jet cutting of the aluminum birds is already under way, and the birdcages will begin to be fabricated “by a New York artist in a month or two.” Criswell’s project is typical of public-art projects in that she has to hire sub-contractors—such as the birdcage maker and local firm Pacific Waterjet Cutting Inc.—to assist with its creation.
Criswell, who is married to prolific public artist (and chair of Chico State’s Art Department) Michael Bishop, said she loves to do public art because “you’re working on such a grand scale.”
“It’s much larger and grander [than studio art],” said Criswell enthusiastically, “and it opens your eyes more.”