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Glass and Metal Artists Team Up for Winning Bench Project

Metal sculptor Larry Gill and glassblower Gavin Heath teamed up to design what may become Laguna Beach’s newest addition to its public art collection.

The team, along with competing artist Michael Graham, presented their concepts to Arts Commission at its meeting Monday, Sept. 12.

After careful deliberations involving structural soundness and public safety, the commission chose Gill and Heath’s maquette of a elegantly curved stainless steel bench with blown glass inserts in its backrest and the bench discretely anchored into a base of concrete. The overall effect is of a modernist couch, clean-lined and, due to bezel anchored blown glass ingots, colorful enough to stand out in the visual jumble of a corner mini-mall at Mountain Street and Coast Highway.

“Visually it will stand out even to someone across the street,” said commissioner Ken Auster.

“This bench will be bullet proof and there hundreds of years after us,” quipped Heath responding to commissioners’ questions regarding durability.

Interior stainless steel or galvanized rebar supports will insure structural soundness. High density matte polishing will prevent the stainless surface from becoming too hot for use, explained Gill, in charge of engineering challenges.

Graham presented a design of three elliptical forms covered by terrazzo stone that appear free-floating but would be anchored to a sculpted metal armature. “I did not want the bench to look like a bench but a sculpture; it’s easy to do a bench,” said Graham.

However, commissioners Auster, Pat Kollenda, Mary Ferguson, Lisa Mansour and Nick Hernandez determined that, given the site, Gill and Heath’s colorful design struck both aesthetic and practical chords. “Glass and stainless steel, it just hits me just right,” said Kollenda.

Heath, a South African-born glass blower known for his colorful glass renditions of African tribal images, has been a Festival of Arts exhibitor for 20 years and also shows at the Sawdust Festival of Art.

Gill is experienced in outdoor works that blend with the elements and require significant engineering skills. He was also a finalists for the Heisler Park 9/11 memorial competition.

During that June meeting, Heath had wondered how studio artists, not necessarily experienced as public ones, could prove their mettle.

Mansour had suggested that he enter one of the bench design contests to get his foot into (the public art) door.

Gill and Heath have already begun work on the $10,000 project while awaiting final decisions from Caltrans, the Design Review Board and the City Council.

“The glass inserts weigh about 20 pounds each and are blown, not cast glass. Already my arms seem two inches longer,” quipped Heath, rendering a short version of the glass making process which involves hoisting a weighty, at least five foot long, steel blowpipe with a glob of glass the size of a healthy newborn attached to its end into its final melting destination, an oven known as the “glory hole.”

His foot meanwhile has done its job for now. It wedged open the door to public art.

 

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