Tag Archive for: public art commission

Tree of Life Installation- San Antonio Public Art Commission

21 Dec
December 21, 2015


The Tree of Life: a well-known motif used throughout many world cultures, is symbolic of strength, growth and legacy. It’s a positive image, suitable for any community but chosen for this particular project because of the embodiment of hope, a common experience and new beginnings. These are things we all relate to. This particular Tree of Life is nestled in the green space courtyard at the housing development of The Gardens of San Juan Square, where all of the apartment windows look out into this green space, serving as a daily reminder of family and home.

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Drawing by Landscape Architect, Gary Lehman of G Studio


Once again, we turned to the cultural narrative of the community as we made our decision for this piece. The Tree of Life is a historical form of art, based on the Biblical narrative connecting all forms of creation. The traditional Mexican version is expressed in clay sculpture, however our Tree of Life is constructed of steel and bronze, but maintains the symbolism of connection through the home, nest and tree imagery.

The installation includes a gazebo, with metal vines that wrap around the columns. The vines are reminiscent of the Zarzamora (blackberry) plant, which is the street address of the community. From the gazebo, roots become visible that gently curve through the landscape, connecting to the house sculpture culminating in branches upholding a nest, which is woven from bronze, copper and steel. The sculpture is rendered as if it is a drawing in space and because the format is linear, the viewer can experience the landscape as the house frames it, as well as enter the house and experience the landscape from within.  The sculpture plays with our perceptions of interior and exterior, the intimacy of home and our public place in community.

The scale and size of the installation was engineered by Great Lakes Metal Works, utilizing two types of steel; stock imprinted with a tree bark texture from Germany and another stock which was hammered for the desired effect. The roots were plotted and dug out by hand with the help of ambassadors from Haven for Hope, a local organization that exists to equip those struggling with homelessness. We used river rock and rainbow gravel to fill the root systems of the installation, to give a natural feeling of flow and movement.


Artist Donna Zarbin-Byrne working on the nest for the house sculpture


Ambassadors from Haven for Hope, working diligently alongside artist Diana Rodrigues Gil on the installation.


Our progress at the Gardens of San Juan was recently documented for a local San Antonio news station, KSAT (see top of post).




The Moon Garden at Our Public Art Commission In San Antonio

01 Sep
September 1, 2015

In the last post, we introduced a public art commission that we are a part of in San Antonio, Texas. Great Lakes Metal Works co-owner Donna Zarbin-Byrne and artist friend and colleague Diana Rodriguez Gil have been commissioned to create an installation that will serve as a focal point for the new outdoor area in the Gardens of San Juan neighborhood.

A lot has taken place in the past few months, from choosing materials for ground cover, conducting workshops with local residents, to a community town hall gathering to publicly introduce the project, and the fabrication of the gazebo columns and metal nest.

Let’s take a closer look at the Moon Garden component of the project, a contemplative environment that invites its visitors to recall memories of place and origin.  The Moon Garden is named for the lunar cycles symbolic of the cyclical patterns of migration throughout history, specifically the migration of native peoples throughout the Americas and Mesoamerica. The crescent and full moon evokes the image of the Lady of San Juan, the namesake of the neighborhood and is depicted in art throughout Mexico. The concern of the project is with cycles of time within the community, beginning with references to Mesoamerican markers located at the Zarzamora Street entrance.

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Donna and Diana working on the moon

Indicative of the iconography of Mesoamerica, sculptural forms called stele are being created to mark and welcome the public into the garden space. Stele are free standing stone slabs which historically were erected for funerary or commemorative purposes, used as territorial markers or to commemorate military victories. The stele being created for the Moon Garden feature imbedded iconography, animals, and botanicals, in bronze and ceramic imbedded into concrete forms. They pay homage and are reflective of the style of the Olmec, Mayan and Aztec civilizations.


Sketch of Stele by Donna Zarbin-Byrne


Another detail the artists highlight is the natural plant and foliage of the area. Silver falls dichondra and frog fruit with white flowers were chosen for their shape and color correlating to the namesake of the image of the virgin of San Juan, are also plants native to Texas.


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Drawing by Landscape Architect Gary Lehman


Around the moon garden will be tiles painted in the talavera style also referencing the Spanish influence of the area. Talavera tiles are a blend of Andalusia Spanish and native Mexican style of craftsmanship.

All of these images serve as a reference to the collective imagery that we recognize as a community in large part with roots to the Americas. Collectively, all of us living in this region can relate to the style and iconography of these images, understanding intuitively the connection to historical landmarks and narrative. The narrative is not created as an instructive timeline, but rather as symbolic forms allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own story and imagination while they experience moving through this sculpture garden. Even before the physical groundbreaking of the garden began, we were able to see it due to the detailed depictions by our wonderful landscape architect, Gary Lehman of G Studio.

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From the statue of Lady of San Juan referencing the colonial period after the conquest in Mexico, to the native Texan plants, and the stele-like stones, Donna and Diana have specifically chosen to reflect the history of this neighborhood through iconic imagery and symbols.


SA Live featured us on September 1 in this great video segment.


Preview: Public Art Commission for Gardens at San Juan

09 Apr
April 9, 2015

While Great Lakes Metal Works has been in business for 25 years, a fact that we are quite proud of, the owners of the company have been making art for much longer than that.  Prior to moving to Chicago, Richard and Donna lived in San Antonio, which is where Donna and another artist friend and colleague are breaking ground on a public art commission at the Gardens of San Juan, a development of the San Antonio Housing Authority.

A major developer and apartment manager, NRP Group, has partnered with the San Antonio Housing Authority to revitalize the San Juan neighborhood. The development is a mixed-finance, mixed-income community, consisting of multi-family units, public housing, market units and commercial space. Thus, the Gardens of San Juan was established.  The first two phases have already proved the collaboration successful.  Now the team has invited Donna Zarbin-Byrne and Diana Rodriguez Gil to create an installation that will serve as a focal point for the new outdoor area in the neighborhood.

Donna says the drawings in the prospectus suggested that it could be a multi-installation project, but that her and Diana developed the artwork specifically so that participants would move throughout the space both physically and conceptually. The concept for the entire art project is based on the cyclical movement of the community throughout many generations. The history of this neighborhood is expressed through iconic imagery and symbols. Donna and Diana will work with residents to integrate family stories, children’s drawings and artwork into various elements of the project.

Diana and Donna spent many hours hatching the ideas for the various elements of the gardens and we are delighted that one of our own is a part of the team.

The Gardens at San Juan is the final component project to complete and anchor the redevelopment activities. It will be a highly visible gathering place for residents and community members because it promotes connectivity among the many amenities onsite and the surrounding community activities.

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We will provide an insider’s look behind the scenes as the project unfolds, exploring how materials are chosen, what other vendors the team brings on, and how the community will take part in the creation of the garden.

To learn more about Donna’s scope of work or to contact her directly, visit her personal website at donnazarbinbyrne.com