Library sign originates from beach
Kachemak Bay’s geological features written in stone
By Naomi Klouda
HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda
Artist Brad Hughes is putting the finishing touches on his art piece, a sign that will go up in front of the Homer Public Library soon. Sculpted from beach sand, rocks, pumice and shells.
Sea shells, beach brick and volcanic pumice: 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.
The sign, commissioned by the City of Homer to local artist Brad Hughes, is nearing completion in an outside workshop at Hughes’ home. The sign weighs in around 3,000 pounds, and is made of literally hundreds of pounds of beach materials ground into grains from sand-fine to shell shards and tiny stones. Reinforced with steel plating, as well as rebar, the structure could well last for the next 500 years, Hughes said.
“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 shop.
And, apparently, it took the help of a lot of school children, library volunteers and others to gather material from beaches.
“We started in March,” Hughes said.
No date is yet set for the sign’s unveiling, but artist Hughes believes it will be up before July 15. Library Director Helen Hill said the library is conscious of its appearance and is really looking forward to the sign, a necessary piece of the library’s design. Going with the no-mowing policy has been a learning experience for the city, as no other public building in Homer – and not many in the U.S. – has gone so far in living with weeds to try to maintain a new energy consciousness and environmental awareness.
“This has been a real learning experience for us as we try to live up to LEED – (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). We’re conscious of energy and water issues, and pesticide use, but want to still have it look neat or tended to, so that it doesn’t look neglected,” Hill said.
LEED standards are set by the U.S. Building Green Council, outlining how city governments can reduce their foot print, entering a new era without wasting resources or contributing to the earth’s pollution.
HOMER TRIBUNE/Naomi Klouda
The unmanicured lawn at the library attracts attention, but it’s part of a plan to reduce the city’s environmental foot print through energy efficiency.
The sign will help finish what is a work-in-progress in its own right, Hill said. She has listened to the public concerns on why the library lawn appears so shaggy and questions about where is the signage.
“It takes patience on our part and the public,” she said. The magic combination of weeding so that perennials have a chance to grow and letting natural vegetation take over has not yet been arrived at, she said. But they are working on it.
The sign will be erected on the eastern corner of the library, near the intersect of Heath and Hazel streets. The sign will sit on a five-foot foundation, with a bricked flower box below. Around the sign, the lawn will remain in its wild form. The decision to go this route was made by the public and library advisory board in many meetings prior to the library’s construction in 2006.
In any case, the under-landscaped lawn at the library likely matches the intent of the sculptured sign – it too depicts things in their wild glory.
“I don’t know how you can improve on mother nature,” Hughes said.
To create the sign, Hughes said layer upon layer of beach materials were placed over the steel frame and sculpted into mountains resembling Kachemak Bay.
Hughes 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 one example, Hughes said he had to build his own grinding machines to get the necessary 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 that is 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.”
Roman cement is still around, though existing in a warmer climate helps a bit. Colder climates don’t do so well with cement, so Hughes made his matrix stronger. Roman cement was created to withstand 5,000 to 7,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.
“This is probably 15,000 PSI (pounds per square inch) because it’s cured hard,” 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.”