On Monday, Corvallis resident Peter Erskine could be seen perched on a ledge below the huge front window of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.
Erskine was fine-tuning a piece of public art that will use the sun to add splashes of color to the library foyer — and shed light on the issue of climate change. The artist has done similar installations internationally, including Rome and Berlin.
“This project is about the beauty and dangers of sunlight,” Erskine said after climbing down from his ledge. He listed the positive effects of sun-produced rainbows in his art and photosynthesis in plants but also noted the challenge of global warming.
“We’ve changed our relationship to the sun,” Erskine said. “We have put it out of balance.”
Erskine’s piece, the Solar Spectrum Environmental Artwork, will be unveiled at an event Saturday at which he hopes to raise awareness of climate change.
“It’s such a big thing and we’re all responsible,” he said. “People can’t comprehend it. It’s terrifying. You have the beauty of the rainbow, a symbol of hope and deliverance. We have a great opportunity.”
Erskine had his “eureka” moment last December when he happened to be on the second floor of the library.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God, this is a window I can use,’ ” said Erskine, who pitched the idea to library director Carolyn Rawles and other city officials and then went home to South Corvallis to work on models. The City Council in June approved Erskine’s plan, which includes donating the piece to the city.
This week Erskine was doing his final tinkering of the pattern of about 20 prisms attached to the south-facing window to produce the rainbow effect, which will keep following the sun.
“It’s something that will change a lot during the year,” he said. “The spectrum will move around the floor about 40 feet,” taking advantage of the shiny tile in the foyer.
“In winter a huge spectrum of color will go up on the second floor,” he added.
Community activists involved in solar and climate change issues have become engaged in the project and have organized an event (see information box) to accompany the debut.
“It’s really exciting to see this happen,” said Annette Mills, facilitator for the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and one of the organizers of Saturday’s event. “There is a need for us to be more energy-efficient. We regard this as an opportunity to raise awareness of the power of the sun."
Erskine estimates the project will have a lifespan of three to five years.
"If the adhesive starts to go, I could replace it," he said. "It's kind of like a long-running exhibition. Creating it in this space is like carving stone. I'm using the library as a studio. That's the great thing about doing it locally."
Although its effects are not yet complete, the installation already is becoming a bit of a tourist attraction. Library patrons watched the work and had "oohs" and "aahs" for the rainbow effect.
“As more and more of it gets done, it gets more and more impressive,” said Ward 5 Corvallis Councilor Mike Beilstein as he passed through the lobby.