Ned Kahn known worldwide for sculptures

The Sebastopol City Council awarded the first city-funded public art project to Sebastopol resident and artist Ned Kahn on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

“Sebastopol is pretty full of art for the public to view, but this is the first city-commissioned art piece,” said Planning Director Kenyon Webster.

The funds for the piece have accumulated over time through the city’s art-in-lieu fee. The fee requires non-residential developments, whether a rehabilitation or new development, to either provide on-site public art or pay an in-lieu fee. The in-lieu fee is set aside solely for the use of public art projects in the community.

The fee will provide Kahn $45,000 for his piece. Called “Spire,” the installment is a 60-foot tower consisting of two concentric cylinders, made out of galvanized steel pipe. The exposed surface would be covered in a dense mosaic of thin stainless steel disks that respond to the wind.

His inspiration was the Laguna de Santa Rosa.

“I wanted to celebrate the Laguna and the element of water,” Kahn said in his original proposal. “A moment of inspiration came to me as I watched sunlight glisten through a stream of water…I had the thought of creating a tall spire at the entrance of Sebastopol that would look like it was made of water.”

Kahn’s “Spire” was recommended by the Sebastopol Public Arts Committee over two other semi finalists.

“His piece gives me goose bumps,” said Linda Galletta, executive director for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. “His work demonstrates the confluence of art and science. It would be an honor to have a piece from a world renowned artist in Sebastopol.”

Kahn has an impressive resume, with commissioned public art pieces locally and internationally, from the Sonoma County Museum and ATT Building in Santa Rosa to the Debenhams Building in London and Brookfield Place in Perth, Australia. His most recently completed piece is “Wind Roundabout,” commissioned by Fort Worth, Texas. Since 1991, he’s collected more than a dozen awards and grants from myriad publications and organizations, including American for the Arts 40 Best Public Artworks (2009), the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (2003) and a sculpture fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1994).

Also receiving votes from the PAC was Vicki Sowell’s “Golden Section.” Described as homage to the city’s agricultural roots, Sowell described “Golden Section” as a living art wall composed of sedum succulents. Sowell proposed to transform the wall of the Sebastopol Regional Library into a living art wall.

Mark Grieve’s and Ilana Spector’s proposal was a 14-foot by 20-foot long gateway sculpture composed of various glass, ceramic, stainless and aluminum shapes rigged together, stretched between two poles to created an effect of “buoyant, upbeat randomness.” The piece was proposed to be located in the Sebastopol Plaza.

The proposed placement of Kahn’s piece — in the Meadowlark Field of the Laguna de Santa Rosa — may be an issue. 

According to Webster, the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District likely won’t allow for the piece to be installed on the site because of an Open Space easement on the property limiting the use of the land.

“Per an Open Space District letter, they suggested this type of work was not suitable,” Webster said.

Nevertheless, the city council directed Webster and staff to work with the District and Caltrans about the possibility of placing the commissioned piece on either easement.

“It’s a monument that I would love to see north of the bridge,” said Vice Mayor Patrick Slayter.

Councilmember Sarah Glade Gurney agreed, adding that the piece will “create an entryway that tens of thousands of people will feel the presence of. It will catch the eye and imagination of all those people.”

As for Kahn, he’s excited about having a piece in the city he’s called home for 20 years.

“I can barely contain my excitement that I might get a chance to realize a project in my hometown,” Kahn said. 

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