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Mather Planetarium Beautification Project Links Art & Science

WCU News 2017

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Mather Planetarium Beautification Project Links Art & Science

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Mather Planetarium Beautification Project Links Art & Science

Kinetic Sun Sculpture’s light source is solar-powered

There's something moving near the west entrance to the Mather Planetarium at West Chester University – and it's not a living thing!

No worries! It's just "Sun Sculpture" gently rotating in the breeze, bouncing light off the mirrors and tiles in "Constellation," the space-themed mosaic (look for the International Space Station tile) designed and installed by alumna Rhoda Kahler '94. WCU may be the first public university to display a kinetic sculpture that interacts purposely with a neighboring artwork by a different artist – and to have a Sun Sculpture whose internal light source is solar-powered.

The University will recognize alumna and arts benefactor Helga Knox '79, who made this installation possible, at a reception on Monday, Aug. 21, at 5:30 p.m., following the solar eclipse. Kahler and Sun Sculpture artist David Beck will also be honored.

The area where the artwork is located adjoins the University's outdoor classroom just outside the hallway linking Schmucker and Merion science buildings. With the art installation, this outdoor oasis in the midst of WCU's bustling campus metaphorically links earth and sky as well as art and science.

It's also a fitting, though subtle, reference to the organic aspect of the outdoor arts project, which John Baker, WCU emeritus professor of art and former chair of the Art + Design department, says is pure Chester County. It's a community effort to see a concept like this through to reality, he notes, and it brought together University employees, students, alumni, outside artists, and the WCU Foundation. "I like having local artists' work on campus," Baker says. "It reinforces the strong arts community in the county." Kahler is based in West Chester while Beck works in Cochranville. Baker's studio is in West Grove.

"Much of a project like this depends upon external support, plus the collaboration among different departments across campus," Baker explains. "From start to finish, this was a three-and-a-half-year project" requiring a shared vision and commitment from those involved.

With the sculpture and mosaic, the planetarium is now the fortunate recipient of three commissioned art projects. First came the student art, all space-themed, in the hallway leading to the dome. Next, 200 shooting stars, which Baker designed with Helga Knox's input, were installed on the wall opposite the student art and appear to "shoot" toward the planetarium entrance. They are inscribed as donors purchase them.
Planetarium Director Karen Schwarz credits Knox with ensuring that students (now alumni) had input in the beautification project so, in addition to art students, those from humanities and sciences chose a quote by American astronomer Edwin P. Hubble to be painted above the entry.

Schwarz appreciates that this beautified courtyard will make it much easier for the public to find the planetarium. "It's much more welcoming: It's the accessible entrance, the name is backlit, the inscription below that illuminated, and the artwork draws people in."

Baker says Sun Sculpture lends two distinct atmospheres to the courtyard and entry depending on whether the viewer is there in the daytime or the evening. "The way the sculpture interacts with the reflective quality of the mirrors in Rhoda's mosaic creates a walkway of stars – uniquely using a solar component."

The dedication event is free and open to the public, but please register for the event so accommodations can be made. To be part of the wall of shooting stars, purchase one, more, or a whole constellation through the WCU Foundation.