Artist Citation Award
Texas Society of Architects/American Institute of Architects
Featured in STAINED GLASS, Summer 2013:
The quarterly journal of the Stained Glass Association of America
Western Perspective III
Art Project Administration: Houston Arts Alliance, Matthew Lennon, Dir. of Civic Art & Design
Fire & Water
Right Side: 8.8' w. by 17.4' h.; Left Side: 6.9' w. by 17.4' h.
The Squirrel in the Pecan Tree
3.2' w. by 16.2' h.
It’s not everyday you’re asked to create stained glass for a fire station. Working with the dedicated firefighters was fascinating, poignant and lots of fun (even if I didn’t get to ride on a fire truck). The crew’s input boiled down to the essence of their trade: Fire and Water.
These windows introduce the fire station as an integral part of the neighborhood’s streetscape where they are visible along a busy four-lane thoroughfare. More importantly, the stained glass acknowledges these windows as part of the home and workplace of four very dedicated shifts of firefighters. The glass art also resonates with the architecture of Fire Station 37 as a sparkling greeting to firefighters and visitors alike.
FIRE AND WATER: The stained glass design began with a series of pre-design meetings with the crews. All their input finally boiled down to two simple, essential elements of firefighting. Unlike the tools and equipment used in firefighting (trucks, hoses, nozzles, helmets, pick-headed axes, pike poles, Maltese crosses, logos, etc.), these two aspects are usually not on display at a fire station. However, every one of the objects and insignias we talked about had both of these things in common: Fire and Water. Fire is the obvious and essential reason for firefighting, while water has been the historical strategy for fighting fire. One of the captains described a glass “fire nozzle” sculpture he’d seen and that image inspired an abstracted nozzle with hundreds of lenses/“droplets” streaming across the windows, seeking to douse red glass “flames”. Interspersed with the lenses are lead-crystal prisms that project tiny spectra into the fire station. Pale tints of transparent green and blue also allude to Water’s ongoing battle with Fire.
A fully 3-dimensional experience is achieved by concentrating on light projections through the windows and on views back out. The south-facing exposure of the fire station insures an ever-changing progression of light during the day and throughout the seasons. Most of the glasses seen in Fire and Water are variously textured transparent glasses whose lucidity and 3-dimensionality are also conveniently reminiscent of water.
When viewed from the outside during the day, German and French opal glasses appear white. However, from inside these “white” opals transform into deep reds. These unique opals, have a thin “flash” of white glass that faces outward. At FS 37 their underlying color is only revealed when they are seen from the inside. “Red” represents fire and its capriciousness. Just as an actual fire is the main concern of firefighters when an alarm sounds, the red color is visible when they leave the station. However, that same glass’s white side is seen from the outside as firefighters return – hopefully representing an extinguished fire. Similarly, dichroic accents appear mirror-like from the outside, but become colorful streaks as seen from inside.
THE SQUIRREL IN THE PECAN TREE: The one story that just about everybody got excited about during my first visits was the one about squirrels that lived in the pecan tree out back. The firefighters had taught the squirrels to let them feed them at the picnic table in the back of Bay #1 (several firefighters were highly competitive barbecuers and this area was a favorite off-time gathering spot). One of the squirrels was so tame it would sit on shoulders while eating treats and had been duly adopted as Station Mascot. We decided to make stained glass for the back door and transoms above the door to commemorate the squirrel and the pecan tree that were soon to be left behind at the old station.
Jeff Smith is an outstanding artist; he has a fabulous sense of color, design and proportion. Combined with his deep understanding of the nature of light, his work adds a transformative quality to the spaces he works within.
Recently, on behalf of the City of Houston, we commissioned Jeff to design the entrances to one of our neighborhood fire stations. His ability to work with an unusual client was essential. He spent a great deal of time, energy and dedication in researching his work. More importantly to the process was Jeff’s talent for revealing the possibilities and limitations of his medium to the fire fighters.
The result has been an astonishing revelation of the tools and elements that encompass the fire fighters’ environment and profession. That Jeff was able to manifest this in an abstract projection of light and color, providing a multidimensional experience of constant changes for both the public viewer and the fire station staff, is phenomenal – a true testament to Jeff’s passion and skills as an artist.
Matthew Lennon, Director of Civic Art + Design, Houston Arts Alliance, Houston, Texas
Materials: German, French and Polish mouthblown glass, domestic rolled glasses, dichroic glass, hand-pressed German lenses, Austrian lead crystal prisms, lead and solder. Installed under a protective glazing of tempered glass.