Sundial Sculpture

by KEN LEAP___________________________________

KEN LEAP, Sundial Sculpture (c) 2006, NOAA Plaza, 29th Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado. Stainless steel, ring diameter: 9'.


"NOAA was approached in 2005 to participate, with other science agencies and organizations in the area, in showcasing science themes and issues in small plazas that are incorporated into the exterior design of Twenty Ninth Street, the outdoor mall replacing Crossroads. NOAA scientists and outreach people formed a committee to work on this project with Macerich management, the mall developer, and local CommArts architect. For our assigned plaza, the NOAA committee decided to create a weather station display, which must be weather-proof and people-proof, as it must operate outside 24/7. Our idea is sculpture(s) or artwork(s) that either illustrate the actual weather in the plaza and/or ones that illustrate basic principles involved in atmospheric science."

- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 10 February 2006

One-third-scale model of sundial. Ring diameter: 3'. Stainless steel.   Sundial during fabrication at Adobe Forge and Foundry, Corrales, New Mexico.

Crane placing 2,000 pound sculpture onto concrete slab. Note the kite-shaped base.   Concrete now poured over steel base.

Rubber mask for hour marks being placed on scultpure by artist prior to sandblasting.   Shadow indicates just past 8:30 MDT.

Full view of completed sundial sculpture.   Closeup of sundial sculpture. Note two rows of hour markers--one for Mountain Standard Time (MST) and one for Mountain Daylight Time (MDT).

How does a sundial relate to meteorology and atmospheric science? To begin with, the design of this particular sundial was motivated by the artist's interest in and knowledge of meteorology. In addition to being a functional time-keeper, this sundial serves as a useful model for explaining the tilt of the earth's axis, climate zones, and seasons. The gnomon is parallel with the earth's axis, and the ring is parallel with the equatorial plane. As the earth rotates, this sundial rotates with it, and the shadow cast onto the inside of the ring by the gnomon marks the time of day. With this 'earth model' the viewer has the opportunity to visualize the earth, and its relationship with the sun, from a new perspective. Marks on the gnomon can be used to observe the equinoxes and solstices, as the ring's shadow moves up and down the gnomon in the course of a year. The slot in the upper half of the ring allows the gnomon to cast a shadow onto the inside of the ring during the equinoxes, when all light falling on the lower half of the ring would otherwise be blocked. With proper explanation, in both text and graphics, this sundial can be a great educational tool.

This original sundial design combines the utility of time-keeping with sculptural aesthetics. Many viewers will be confronted with questions about the sculpture's stability. At first glance the sundial ring appears to be at rest, like a top on its side, with its gnomon keeping it from going all the way over. Further inspection will reveal that there is no visible connection between the gnomon and the ring, and at once the sundial seems unstable or held up by some mysterious force.