Stunning sculptures light up Richmond’s waterfront
on October 8, 2019
Richmond’s waterfront celebrated a new symbol lighting up its night sky. The iconic eelgrass-shaped sculptures installed at the Richmond Ferry Terminal, entitled “Changing Tide,” started giving off multi-colored streaks of light on the night of October 5.
Jeffrey Reed and Jennifer Madden, an artist couple whose shop is based in Richmond, undertook two years of work to build the sculptures. “We have an internal kind of mission to build inspirational forms, create places in the public domain that inspire the public to respect the natural environment,” says Reed. The city’s Public Art Program paid the sculptors $295,000 for the installation.
The sculpture, made primarily of stainless steel, has a height of about 20 feet with solar panels on the front and LED lights in the back. Each vertical piece representing eelgrass consists of three metal blades, whose width and heaviness are meticulously calculated by the artists’ collaborator, Stephen Heinen, cantilevering away from the central stalk. At its base, there is concrete representing mudflats, which evokes a scene of coastal wetlands. “The front bow is made out of flat sheets. And that was very, very tricky to weld and keep [them] from buckling,” says Madden.
What inspired these artists to create this eelgrass installation was their desire to pay homage to Richmond’s nature. “This area used to be marshland before it got filled, so we looked at some more research, and we realized Richmond has the healthiest, largest eelgrass in the bay,” says Madden. “It’s critical to bring awareness, so that the form evolved out of wanting to highlight eelgrass.” Richmond has 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Mayor Tom Butt noted, Richmond accounts for 75% of all the eelgrass in the bay.
The light of the sculpture as it goes up and down represents the rise and fall of the tide, but it lets visitors imagine whatever they want. “Now, our concept is they are a blank canvas for the community to make all sorts of lights, all sorts of rhythms, all sorts of patterns. So, it’s not for us to say what the light should be but for everybody to be able to make different lights. That’s the goal,” says Madden.
Richmond communities welcomed this new gateway to the marina in diverse ways during the opening event. Nearly ten performing groups, ranging from salsa and belly to hip hop and fire, danced in harmony with rhythmic music and eelgrasses of various colors. One of the groups consisted of local high school students dressed in brightly colored and embroidered dresses, dancing “Folklorico” with incredibly light steps, and adding luster to the waterfront.
“I’m very proud that our city has such wonderful public art pieces,” Jordan DeStaebler, a viewer and friend of the artists, remarked.
Despite the crowds of enthusiastic spectators, the artists are currently facing a lack of funding for the ongoing operation of the interactive sculptures. Sufficient funds will allow “Changing Tide” to offer light shows, opportunities for students to learn programming using lights, and allow for the installation of motion sensors and speakers.
“We feel it’s more useful if the public is actually able to enter into this sculpture and make it their own through their own experience,” Reed says, “rather than just walk around it and experience it as something that somebody else has made.”
Information on the artists’ fundraising and opportunities to donate to maintain this interactive art, can be found by visiting their site.
This article has been updated to include the cost to the city of Richmond.
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