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Ava’s House Outdoor Sculpture

Light sculpture (on mystery and love, with sorrow mixed in) created from selections of poetry written by people who have had experiences with hospice care. Ivy Oland of Oland Arts in Sioux Falls approached me with the concept of an outdoor lighted sculpture that would somehow feature the poetry created by people who have had […]

Ava's House – Outdoor Sculpture

Light sculpture (on mystery and love, with sorrow mixed in) created from selections of poetry written by people who have had experiences with hospice care.

Ivy Oland of Oland Arts in Sioux Falls approached me with the concept of an outdoor lighted sculpture that would somehow feature the poetry created by people who have had experiences with hospice care. The sculpture would be lit from the inside, projecting the letterforms onto the surrounding environment. The text used in the sculpture is adapted from a series of poems created by Lori Walsh, writer and host of South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s “In the Moment.” Walsh developed the poems from a poetry workshop she led with people who had had experiences with hospice care.

Typeface adaptation


This image is a sample section that we created to test out the adapted font, which the vendor produced at a size of 24 x 24″.

One of the most interesting parts of this project for me was creating a custom adaptation of a typeface that honored the gravity of the poetry excerpts, but could also be cut out of the metal walls of the sculpture. Because the text was such an important part of this piece, it was important to find a typeface that felt right. It had to be readable at a distance, have thin enough strokes that it didn’t let too much light through, and most importantly, the letters needed to hold together when they were cut out of the steel walls. Most “stencil” fonts feel too informal, or have military connotations, but for this sculpture the text needed to feel timeless, contemplative, and sincere. I selected a font that had those qualities, and began to rebuild it based on specifications of the vendor who would be fabricating the sculpture.

The problematic parts of the letterforms were the counters. In typographic terms, a counter is the open space that is entirely enclosed by the stroke of the letter—the island of white in the center of the “O,” for example. For this adaptation of the typeface to work, there could be no islands—only peninsulas. Based on the size that I wanted to use the text and on the recommendations of the vendor, the minimum size of the connections for those peninsulas would have to be about .25 inches.

Ava's House – Concept sketches
Early sketches exploring different forms. Many of the initial directions I explored quickly ran up against the realities of working with sheet metal and had to be discarded.

A physical mockup helped to get a sense of the how the piece would feel in three dimensions, and to see how the light would interact with the shapes I was creating.

Concept development

There are a number of tree references in the text, and I wanted to acknowledge that imagery in the final sculpture. I also wanted to avoid the connotation of a tree stump. A tree stump is a dead end, in some sense, and this sculpture should feel like a beginning.

Ava’s House is one of only a few hospice care facilities in the country that serve pediatric patients. “We’re overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors to help make Ava’s House a reality,” said Sharon Hunt, executive director for cancer at Sanford Health. “At Ava’s House, we can prioritize the wishes of the patient and the family, allowing them to spend precious time remaining concentrating on the things that are important to them. We’re grateful to be able to provide a warm and intimate setting to comfort families and patients, as well as access to the levels care they need while in hospice.” (From Inside Ava’s House: Sanford’s homelike approach to hospice.)

As a father, the whole idea of a “pediatric hospice space” is heartbreaking enough, and I was honored to be a part of (I hope) making the whole facility more welcoming to families who are experiencing a time like that together.
Ava's House – Outdoor sculpture

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