In 2021 April was awarded a contract from the Oregon Judicial Department to create a one-of-a-kind sculpture for the remodeled Supreme Court Building in Salem, OR. She was selected from over 100 artists to create this monumental sculpture which hangs over 36′ long and 29′ wide, spanning 3 floors. This was to coincide with the major renovation of this century-old building
This sculpture, titled “Alis Volat Propriis” or “We Fly with Our Own Wings”, took April most of 2022 to create; including multiple site visits to Oregon, engineering meetings, creation of the glass feathers, mocking up the sculpture in her Pontiac studio, then deconstructing, packing, and rehanging the sculpture in Oregon. This blog gives you a behind-the-scenes look at all that work. To read more about the concept behind the sculpture visit here.
April hand-made over 2500 glass feathers using a palate of colors referencing the iconic stained glass ceiling featured in the courtroom.
Each feather is one of a kind, ranging from gold and silver to white, blues, reds, browns, and black. Created at a 2000-degree furnace and cooled to room temperature, each feather was then hand drilled with 2 holes. That’s 5,000 holes in all!
April mocked up the sculpture in her new building at the Pontiac studio (which was finished just in time, read our blog here all about it) and was the first piece created in the new space. The tall ceilings and natural light really helped her see how the colors and overall shape would come together. Once she figured those elements out she deconstructed the entire artwork, taking down each feather, organizing them, and then carefully packing them to be shipped, unpacked, and rehung in Oregon.
She built the sculpture on a temporary armature while the final armature was being built in Oregon by master fabricators. Formed from stainless steel and powder coated to match the paint in the court stairwell, the final armature disappears into the ceiling, not distracting from the glass.
The final sculpture took a little under three weeks to hang. Standing on scaffolding and harnessed to side rails April and her team of installers worked long days and weekends to meet a tight deadline. A construction site during the final days before completion is like a busy beehive, but the epiphany team pulled out all the stops and together they created a real masterpiece!
At the reopening ceremony in March of 2023, April was thrilled to be asked to speak about her concept for the sculpture with the Justices, Legislators, and notable public attendees. She was even interviewed and the sculpture was shown on Portland TV
“I’m so honored to be here speaking to you today. I want to thank the people who are an important part of the success of this artwork. Firstly, to the people of Oregon who support the Percent for the Art program which provides important funding for projects like this. Arts Program Manager – Peg Butler – thank you for giving me such clear and insightful guidance, being my biggest advocate, and trying to get me to say Oregon correctly. The Art Committee – thank you for selecting me from along many talented artists and for your commitment to our partnership. Nick and Doug, Lou Parker from Hoffman and Adam from Safeway – thank you for taking time in a very hectic construction schedule to problem solve with me. And lastly my amazing team in Michigan – for getting in the arena with me so together we could dare greatly.
Art is a labor of love and without making time and space for it we would live an unexamined life. From the beginning, it was evident this building was well-loved, and would need a very special, very thoughtful sculpture. The art needed to compliment the building, not overwhelm it. It needed to engage and inspire everyone from the wisest legal scholars to visiting school children. And, as tasked by the art committee, it needed to speak about Justice. I had to ask myself what is Justice and what does it mean? So I started doing research and what I realized was that Justice has 2 natures. It is both objective and subjective. Objectively Justice is an ideal that we strive for, it is fair and equal and impartial. But the enactment of Justice is done by humans and humans are subjective, we do the best job we can, but we don’t always get it right.
Now I needed to figure out what Justice looked like. My work is site-specific, so I came to Salem to see the court building. It looked nothing like it does now, much was either covered, removed, or blocked by construction equipment. What I could see were little details in the plasterwork that looked like feathers, and golden eagles at the top of columns, natural light that changed throughout the day, and stairwells that once uncovered I knew were quite grand. These details became my inspiration. I used two iconic symbols to represent Justice. The Objective being the wings of an Eagle and the Subjective being the scales Lady Justice holds. I used feathers to represent the diversity of the people who come together under the rule of law. So, it seemed only fitting that the sculpture be named “Alis Volat Propriis” or “We Fly With our Own Wings” after the state motto.
For the wings, I wanted to create balance and evenness. I used a nuanced palate that pulled colors from the courtroom skylight and hung the feathers in a hombre pattern, so no matter where you are standing you feel this sense of great majesty and power. For the scales in each stairwell, I used the opposite approach. I wanted randomness. I used random colors and spacing to create imbalance and unevenness, ending in lit bowls finished with 24-carat gold leaf. Conceptually this spoke to me about how valuable and fragile justice can feel like the weight of a single feather could tip the balance at any moment.
There are over 2,000 hand-made glass feathers in this sculpture. It took me about 9 months to create them. I made them using a 2,000-degree glass furnace. Each feather was drilled with 2 holes so they would hang. I hung each feather, one at a time, over about 15 days. Since I took up the whole stairwell, this meant I was in everyone’s way during the final days of construction.
In hindsight, this was pretty audacious and could have gone really badly, but I had an amazing team and together we created this masterpiece.
In closing, I can wholeheartedly say how proud I am of this sculpture, and that it will live on as part of the great legacy of this building and the important work done here.
Artists make art so they can share it, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to share mine with you.