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Unity Art Project a labor of love for former PCC student
Story by Christina Holmes. Photos by Vern Uyetake and James Hill.
With the yearlong 50th anniversary celebration over, signs of PCC’s milestone will remain for decades to come at the college.
In May, the PCC Unity Project — four steel-and-glass art sculptures created for the anniversary — were dedicated to the college. The pieces were constructed as one collection, but will be displayed individually at each site.
The project reflects how the diverse aspects of PCC come together under one unified mission. The PCC Bond Program, in accordance with Oregon’s “One Percent for Art” legislation, funded the Unity Project.
“The idea was that it would be shown as a whole piece and then the four pieces would break apart,” said Ben Buswell, a Rock Creek art instructor and Unity Project committee member. “The other element of importance was that all the materials had to be sustainable.”
The Unity Project came about as a cooperative effort involving faculty and staff members from across the district. The group spent several months discussing ways to artistically commemorate the college’s 50th anniversary.
Enter Nicky Falkenhayn, who was commissioned to develop the art project. Falkenhayn, a former student who learned her trade of industrial welding at PCC several years ago, is a professional artist specializing in welding and jewelry making. She couldn’t pass up a chance to work with PCC.
“I love the whole aspect of this commission,” she said. “It’s been an incredible experience how the whole thing just fell into place. It’s also been quite a challenge, which I love.”
The inspiration for the pieces came as Falkenhayn focused on the idea of PCC’s “birthday.” In Switzerland, where she was raised (she is Dutch by birth), there is a lot of fuss over birthday cakes. She began thinking about the numbers atop a birthday cake and as they tumbled around her mind she came up with the idea to highlight the number 50. Then she thought about cutting each number in half and turning it on its side and even upside down. That’s how she arrived at the four unusually shaped sculptures — each with some resemblance to the numbers 5 and 0.
Within each sculpture are glass plates on which students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to write notes when the plates were brought around to the PCC campuses earlier this year. The glass does not show through on the final piece, but the messages serve as a time capsule of sorts.
Spending months in the welding shop at Rock Creek and also working in her home studio, Falkenhayn has experienced feelings of excitement by being closely involved with the Unity Project. Her first welding classes at Rock Creek were a mix of artists and professional welders using their imaginations to turn hulking pieces of rusty steel into useful or fashionable pieces.
“I had a small child at home so I took evening classes,” Falkenhayn said. “It was so easy to learn and so we would cut and weld and talk. There was this energy in the class. We were a really good group of people who wanted to make things with our hands.”
Besides the working on the art, Falkenhayn went to each campus and spoke to students about public art and procedures for safely and securely installing the sculptures. “We talked about everything we need to take into account for public art such as the traffic patterns, trees and lights,” she said.
For now, most of the pieces will remain at Rock Creek because of new construction at the other campuses. The college hopes to finish much of the construction at each campus before installing the sculptures in their permanent homes