Library sign a lesson in environmental art

3,000-pound Homer sign made of sand, rocks, pumice, shells

Posted: Monday, July 06, 2009

HOMER - By the time the new Homer Public Library sign is installed this month, it will not only represent the town's hallmark coastal beauty, it will contain it.

Naomi Klouda / Homer Tribune
Naomi Klouda / Homer Tribune

Local artist Brad Hughes has nearly finished the 3,000-pound sign made of hundreds of pounds of beach materials such as sea shells, beach brick and volcanic pumice ground into shell shards, tiny stones and fine sand.

"You get the colors from what I call beach bricks, these orange rocks you find on the beach (that fall from beneath the coal seams). You get white from the shells, black from coal and then mix them like paint with cement," Hughes explained, gesturing to materials graded by sizes in buckets around his outdoors workshop shop at his home.

Reinforced with steel plating, rebar and specially cured Roman cement, the city commissioned sign could well last for the next 500 years, Hughes said.

"It's all about the mix and the cure what you mix and how long you cure. In 500 years, hopefully the sign might look the same it does now," he said.

Roman cement was created to withstand 5,000 to 7,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, but his "is probably 15,000 PSI, because it's cured hard" to withstand the colder climate, Hughes said.

For his materials, he enlisted help from school children, library volunteers and others.

"We started in March," Hughes said.

No date is set for the sign's unveiling, but Hughes believes it will be up before July 15. Library Director Helen Hill said the library is conscious of its appearance and is looking forward to the sign, a necessary piece of the library's design.

The sign will sit on a five-foot foundation, with a bricked flower box below. Around the sign, the lawn will remain wild.

The under-landscaped look matches the intent of the sculptured sign - depicting things in their wild glory.

"I don't know how you can improve on Mother Nature," Hughes said.

To create the sign, Hughes placed layer after layer of beach materials over the steel frame and sculpted mountains resembling Kachemak Bay. He included a quartet of sandhill cranes flying in the foreground.

How it was constructed has as much to do with sound building principles as it does with artistic ones. For example, Hughes built his own grinding machines to get the right consistency.

"I don't know where you would buy a grinder for sea shells," he said.

The fine-tuning of sculpture comes from sanding out the images and a certain amount of wetting that helps the cement do its adhesive work. Each layer sanded off removes the rougher components and allows the materials underneath to show through, such as the pearly gleam of shells.

"For me, it's a piece of art more than just a sign, I hope," Hughes said "And you want it to last, just as you'd hope the library building will be around in 100 years or more."

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