Richard Swanson works on the installation of his piece “Rogue Valley Revelry” at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center, which will open in early September in Medford. - Jim Craven

Sculptures will lend a modern-art feel to SOU-RCC building

Large sculptures of aluminum and glass will greet students next month in Medford's new Higher Education Center, jointly shared by Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University.

The two institutions commissioned three artists to give a modern-art look to the center, which will open in early September on the corner of Bartlett and Eighth streets.

A reception for the artists is planned at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Rogue Gallery and Art Center, 40 S. Bartlett St.

Artist Richard Swanson will give a slide show explaining his piece, a series of two-dimensional aluminum shapes mounted to walls both inside and outside the building.

Swanson, of Helena, Mont., said each piece in the series is symbolic of the culture, history or landscape of Southern Oregon, and from that comes the title "Rogue Valley Revelry."

"The pieces have meaning, but are still abstract," Swanson said.

Swanson extensively researched the Rogue Valley area to find symbols to represent the region. Pieces represent everything from Shakespeare's quill to a symbol for wine.

A plaque indicating the meaning of each shape will be placed outside the building.

"I know more about this area than my own," Swanson said.

Artist Tim Prentice of Connecticut created a three-piece aluminum kinetic sculpture that will look like ribbons descending from the ceiling in the entrance to the building.

Prentice was asked to submit two ideas to the committee, something unique to the commissioning process for this project.

"I felt like the loser and the winner at the same time," he said.

His piece won't be titled unless it acquires a name on its own, "organically," he said.

Two glass-paneled walls titled "It Begins Within the Circle," painted by Lonnie Feather of Portland, were installed in the building on the first and third floors. An artist's reception was held July 9 at the Rogue Gallery to honor her work and to show the community the day-to-day process of artwork taking shape, Feather said.

The textured plate glass project, which depicts a circular motion, took about seven months to fabricate, Feather said.

"I came up with the idea talking with the committee about what they wanted," Feather said. "They wanted it to represent the joining effort of RCC and SOU to bring education to the community."

A 10-member Art Selection Committee invited public artists from around the U.S. to submit ideas and sketches for the building before March 2007. The invitation gave specifics for each site, including the total area of space and art media the committee preferred. Nearly 100 artists submitted slides, and the committee selected six finalists, said Saralyn Hilde of the Oregon Arts Commission. Each finalist made a proposal to the committee, which chose Swanson, Prentice and Feather.

The Oregon Arts Commission required that the building, with a total budget of $22.2 million, allot at least 1 percent of its direct construction costs to commission public art. The approximate budget for all three artists combined was $141,000.

Reach intern Stacey Barchenger at 776-4464 or e-mail her at

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