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Looping Petals
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Looping Petals


Everything I write about in these Travelogues is a personal experience, but this one in particular hits very close to home.

I heard a lot about this sculpture, known now as “Heliconia Loop,” for months as it was being created, following along avidly as the deadline for having it ready for installation came ever closer. In fact, news reached me while it was still in the design phase because the fabrication studio where my daughter works in Brooklyn, N.Y., had been retained to make it happen.

The artist, Honolulu, Hi.-based Mark Chai, was commissioned by the New York Botanical Garden to develop a theme sculpture to accompany a major exhibition of Hawai’i-inspired works by the great Georgia O’Keeffe. To that point in his career, Chai had worked primarily in wood and plastic at relatively small scales, but the garden’s director had seen his work on a visit to Hawai’i, admired its dramatic organic forms and recognized a great opportunity.

1For her part, O’Keeffe visited Hawai’i for nine weeks in 1939, and the exhibition – Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i – gathered 20 paintings she generated as a consequence of her time there. These painted perceptions of beaches, waterfalls and tropical flowers were produced at the behest of the Hawaiian Pineapple Co. for a promotional campaign and are seldom seen. The cool thing is that the botanical garden took the admirable step of pairing the paintings with displays of the actual plant species O’Keeffe had used for inspiration – a nice idea, nicely executed.

2My daughter’s role in all of this was taking the sculptor’s basic design for “Heliconia Loop,” turning it into shop drawings and then programming the studio’s CNC machinery to produce the stainless steel petals in large-scale, flawless form. Once the 32 identical petals were welded in place, the composition was set above a large reflecting pool in the garden – and the visual effect, if I do say so myself, is quite wonderful.

3There’s just one issue: The exhibition ends on October 28, so time is short: If you happen to find yourself within striking distance of the Bronx between now and then, both a brilliant exhibition and a beautiful sculpture await you.

Longer term, the folks at the New York Botanical Garden haven’t decided on the sculpture’s fate. If the show moves along to other venues, the sculpture may follow along – and my daughter Leah is happy with the possibility she’ll need to travel along with it to make certain it is handled and reinstalled properly. There’s also the possibility that the piece will be sold and moved along for permanent installation elsewhere.

However it works out, I’m proud that Leah played a part in making all of this happen. “Heliconia Loop” is dazzlingly precise and quite lovely – the perfect complement to a large, reflective surface and a glorious expression of Georgia O’Keefe’s floral legacy.

To see a brief video on the O’Keeffe exhibition, click here and scroll down a bit.

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