More than 15,000 Burlington-made blown glass globes are featured in a sculpture designed by an internationally renowned artist and architect Maya Lin. His towering piece, titled “Decoding the Tree of Life,” stands 40 feet tall in the atrium of a new hospital building in Philadelphia.
The $1.6 billion, 17-story pavilion at the University of Pennsylvania (HUP) Hospital opened on Halloween weekend. Its centerpiece, on two floors and visible from the street, is Lin’s installation: a steel frame to which are affixed elements created by AO glass, which has a studio and showroom in Burlington’s South End. Imagine about 15,500 glass balls – each distinct from the others – superimposed on a structure of substantial height and grace.
AO produced the globes in the spring and summer after landing the job on the recommendation of another glass artist.
“It was really quite a studio effort,” said company co-founder Rich Arentzen.
Lin’s “Tree” is fashioned from stainless steel shapes arranged in a pattern that resembles branches reaching skyward. At its base, strands of AO spheres seem to represent roots. While the work evokes forms in the natural world — including the Schuylkill River, which runs through Philadelphia — it also depicts the networks of human DNA, the artist said.
“Maya wanted it to be honest, showing how this thing was built and put together, but we also wanted the structure to disappear when you look at it as one piece,” said Betsy Jacobson, project manager for Lin’s sculpture. “The opacity we landed on, when you can layer the globes on top of each other, really helps with that.”
Lin is best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC while still a student at Yale University. The monument, a long wall inscribed with more than 58,000 names of American military personnel who died during the war, was dedicated in 1993.
Seven daysEfforts to reach Lin were unsuccessful, but she described her new job in a statement from Penn Medicine, the health system to which HUP belongs.
“My approach to this piece is to create something that is uplifting, that has a sense of wonder and beauty,” Lin said. “I want to make you aware of your surroundings in the Pavilion, in this beacon of scientific progress, connecting you to the physical and natural world around you while symbolizing the very essence of life – DNA.”
According to Arentzen, working on Lin’s project was a very involved process and a significant honor.
“It’s a real highlight for AO Glass to have grown to the point where we would be seen as a reliable candidate to produce this for such a high-profile artist,” he said, “and that we were able to do that. .”
Arentzen added that he couldn’t think of a more meaningful place than a hospital for an exhibition of AO’s creations.
“I hope this gives people a moment of comfort in an otherwise stressful situation,” he said.
Arentzen founded AO Glass in 2007 with his wife, artist and designer Tove Ohlander. In its early days, the business was a small artisan workshop in which the two glassblowers, along with a third artisan, produced hand-blown bowls, vases, glasses and other objects. Ohlander uses a Swedish technique called grail engrave drawings and illustrations on certain objects.
In 2014, the company began to evolve into what it is today: a workshop that produces blown, pressed and cast glass objects and employs 26 people.
AO makes fixtures for Hubbardton Forge in Castleton, bottle caps for the WhistlePig distillery in Shoreham and its own range of beer glasses printed on the base with the Black Lives Matter raised fist, among other pieces.
“What interests me most now is creatively building a place where people can have secure jobs,” Arentzen said, “in a craft-based way that I’ve really dedicated my whole life to. my adult life.”
The Lin project came to AO Glass through Michael Scheiner, a Lin collaborator and renowned glass artist and fabricator. He is the founder of Keer Glass Foundry in Central Falls, RI
“It was a big problem to choose [AO Glass]”Scheiner said Seven days by telephone. “I knew it would be a good facility because they’re sensitive to artistic concerns. I think Rich is an amazing person. He creates a community there, an environment that’s good for other artists.”
Scheiner worked with Lin on the design and aesthetics of the sculpture’s glass globes, creating prototypes. He visited AO Glass in the spring to help get the project started and train the blowers on certain facets of the job.
At the Burlington studio, Scheiner said he recognizes and appreciates the qualities he believes are at the heart of glassblowing: sharing information and ideas, teamwork, and a willingness to try. new things.
For four months over the spring and summer, AO devoted half of its resources—people, space, and equipment—to making globes for the Lin facility.
The transparent spheres range in diameter from one and a half inches to four inches. Each was hand blown and given a distinct look, marked by tiny translucent bubbles and small white lines that look like etchings. This latter effect was achieved when, after bringing together the first of two layers of glass, the glassblower dipped the ball in a solution of water and baking soda.
“The gaze is trapped [between those] two layers,” Arentzen explained.
AO employee Sebastian Govoni, 20, said he worked on a few aspects of the project and “slowly became an expert in quality control”, i.e. controlling quality.
Every day during production, Govoni attached a headlamp, picked up a sphere, and twirled it around in his hand, inspecting it meticulously for tiny cracks. If he found one, “the ball is pretty much trash at this point,” he said. Govoni examined approximately 13,000 globes.
“When I saw pictures of the final product,” he said, “I was blown away by how beautiful all of these little pieces that I looked at became the biggest work of art. .”
The steel elements of Lin’s sculpture were made by a company called UAP, which has an office in Manhattan and a metal shop in the Hudson Valley. Jacobson, project manager for UAP, said the sculpture installers in Philadelphia had considerable artistic license.
“The glass spoke for itself,” she said. “He lands where he wants to land.”
According to Scheiner, Lin appreciated the work of the collaborators who made his design. “I think she was very pleased with all the contributions from all the people who worked on it,” he said.
Arentzen said he and Ohlander planned to go to Philadelphia to see “Decoding the Tree of Life.”
“It’s kind of like good music,” he said of the sculpture. “He is able to attract you, [and] there is always more to see. But you can immediately get an idea of the melody.”