PLEASANTON -- Performances at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton may constantly change, but observant visitors will notice something considerably more permanent just outside the building's Railroad Avenue entrance.
The spherical white sculpture is smooth, mysterious and begs to be handled. Christened "Eternity" by creator Jim Hunolt, it's one of Pleasanton's most tactile pieces of public art.
"That's the idea, for it to be touched," Hunolt said. "Stone is a fabulous element of our earth, and the idea of being able to influence a piece of stone to project a certain content or idea is fabulous."
Hunolt, who grew up in Berkeley, now lives and works in Big Sur, where he experiments with the semiabstract expression of concepts ranging from human love to emotional dilemma. "Eternity" reflects his recent interest in even more abstract ideas.
"One of (those ideas) was putting in three-dimensional form the idea of eternity or infinity -- the past, present and future," he said. "I was just after something that would express energy, continuance, the idea of not being stable but in motion, and, in terms of form, I'm always trying to generate a form of beauty ... lines that move or flow in a way interesting or pleasing to look at."
Hunolt designed "Eternity" by starting with a clay form, then making a plaster version. From there, his idea was slowly transferred to a piece of quarried white crystal jade granite.
The first "roughing out" was done using diamond discs that cut slots about an inch deep in the stone. A hammer and chisel roughed out those areas, and after that, a pneumonic air hammer with varying degrees of impact was used. A power grinder smoothed the hammer marks, along with abrasive pads with varying grit levels. The final polishing was done by hand.
The creation of "Eternity" took about three months and a lot of contemplation, Hunolt said.
"I spent a lot of time just looking at it," he said. "Looking from different angles and putting it in the dark and putting a light on it. That's the acid test; you see how the shadows move across it, and that tells you everything."
The finished work was spotted by Nancy and Gary Harrington, retired educators and art lovers in Pleasanton who have established a 10-year public art acquisition and installation plan in collaboration with the city, called Another Harrington Art Partnership Piece For You" (Another H.A.P.P.Y.).
"Eternity" was one of the first pieces submitted for approval under the plan, and the simple, elegant design struck them as a good fit for the new downtown theater.
"We really wanted some sculpture in the front of the Firehouse, and there seemed to be a lot of hesitancy to putting anything in front," Nancy Harrington said. "But this particular piece, when people saw it ... they said 'Oh yes, this would fit nicely there.' It had been an issue working so hard to get the Firehouse there ... they wanted to make sure nothing detracted from that appearance."
The work was purchased by Another H.A.P.P.Y. with supplemental funding from community donors, Gary Harrington said.
"(Hunolt) knew we were getting it for public art, so he gave us a tremendous discount ...," he said. "He worked with us, and it was purchased for under $25,000."
In 2012, the 1,200-pound piece -- along with its 1,200-pound red granite base -- was brought to Pleasanton and moved into place with the aid of Hunolt, the Harringtons and an installation team with a forklift. It rests in a discreet niche in front of the theater.
"It's tucked away, but there's something nice about that, too," Hunolt said. "This is in a little place where it tends to be discovered, and then it's a surprise."
Hunolt said he hopes the work will inspire curiosity in all who view it.
"To me, the space that goes through it is a perfect circle, the idea of completion, but the space is going through at an angle ... that suggests change," he said. "The swirling part of the stone itself is an energized form ... and the selection of white stone is an aspect of purity.
"Each viewer brings their own experience to what they see and feel to a work of art," he added. "People bring their own vision to it."
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