A Global Vision
With Helmick + Schechter Sculpture's imaginary trip around the globe, a Hartford college takes a geography lesson
Christine Temin -- Interior Design, 5/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
Hartford as the center of the world? It's a stretch, but that's precisely what Ralph Helmick and Stuart Schechter came up with for Latitude, a public artwork in the five-story atrium at Capital Community College. Helmick + Schechter Sculpture's kinetic installation was inspired by the large immigrant population at the Connecticut school, which is attended by students from more than 30 countries. "It promotes international collegiality," Helmick says. "Not an empire-building mentality like our current administration's."
Helmick + Schechter started with Hartford's latitude, approximately 42 degrees north, and created a giant blue ring that represents what you'd encounter if you traveled around the world at that latitude. Spiking out from the ring's perimeter are silhouettes of topographical features and signature buildings such as the Coliseum in Rome, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, and the Great Wall of China—all in the correct position in relation to one another. To make the oceans between the continents more interesting, the artists added boats ranging from a graceful felucca to a giant freighter.
The ring's 35 silhouettes were cut by water jet from 1/4-inch-thick aluminum. The ring itself arrived on-site as 12 curved pieces of powder-coated aluminum, which were then bolted together to form a circle 29 feet in diameter—large enough to rotate around four of the atrium's supporting box beams. Now resting on two heavy-duty steel brackets welded to the upper pair of beams, the 770-pound sculpture took a week to install, completing a $200,000 project set in motion four years ago by Connecticut's Department of Public Works and Commission on Culture & Tourism.
Speaking of motion, one of those two brackets houses a servomotor that moves the ring at a rate imperceptible to the human eye. Every 24 hours, Latitude makes a complete circle, just like planet earth. So, in addition to being a map, the piece is a clock. When it's noon, Eastern Time, the Hartford skyline—the only silhouette that's gold-leafed—is always at the top.