FLIGHT, by Richard Lippold
Confident recognition of true merit in a work of art comes as a great source of satisfaction to the amateur critic, and my daughter and I experienced this thrilling sensation during our visit to New York City in 1962. The work of which I speak is Richard Lippold’s sculpture, “Flight,” which was completed shortly before our trip, in the Vanderbilt Avenue lobby of the new Pan Am building.
Even before entering the building, we were overwhelmed by the brilliant immensity of the sculpture as it first came into view from beyond the glass and granite wall of the lobby entrance. Composed entirely of gold and silver wire, “Flight” is an abstract geometrical design which rises from the center of the otherwise empty ground floor upward and outward to the extremities of the ceiling above the mezzanine surrounding it on three sides. These two levels, an exposed escalator at the rear of the lobby, and the enormous plate glass windows at the entrance afford an almost complete sphere of vantage points from which the sculpure is visible.
“Flight” might almost be referred to as architecture, for it is inseparable from the building, depending on it for its size and support. The wire strands—no two of which come into contact—are strung in the form of cones and wide ribbons, the latter spiraling in a half circle as they progress from floor to ceiling, The centerpiece is a large cone standing on end upon a foundation about ten feet long and half as wide. Anchored around this cone are four smaller cones and four ribbons of wire, and from this starting point they extend upward and outward until they fill the upper reaches of the foyer. Spotlights around the base of the work and in the ceiling are trained upon the whole so that the otherwise austere hall is dazzling.
Much of its fascination is that “Flight” becomes more mysterious with study. Technologically alone it is a masterpiece, and even the hastening passerby involutarily pauses to reflect upon the method of creation. Here is a work of genius in concept and skill. This is no assembly of prefabricated parts; it was given form where it stands, strand by strand. Contemplation of the difficulties involved in merging the wires, and in the fact that the slightest kink meant removal and replacement of the entire strand only serves to increase the marvel of the accomplishment.
As we began slowly to circle the sculpture, its tremendous power became apparent. The sculpture suddenly became alive, and we felt ourselves both led and followed by the ever-changing reflections of light as they sped along the wires, now straight, now undulating, now darting off at unexpected angles as new wires captured the rays. Entire expanses of wire which had heretofore been invisible insinuated themselves into our field of vision, and familiar surfaces unobtrusively slipped from view.
Being in the presence of this work of art was for us an emotional experience. The myriad paths made by planes across the heavens—some visible only as they fade into eternity, some never visible at all—have been given their monument. With motionless light and stationary wire, Richard Lippold has embodied the very essence of flight.
FLIGHT, by Richard Lippold
TO MY FRIENDS AND READERS:
I recently received a request for a charity donation for an Indian tribe fairly close to where I grew up in Wyoming, the Crows in Montana. That got me looking for an article I wrote about a buffalo roundup with them.
It also led me to quite a few papers which I wrote in college in my 30’s-50’s. I have read through several of them and hope that they might be interesting to you, so I am going to post several, signing with the date at which I first wrote them. I hope you will enjoy them, especially because they will take you to a different time in history, very different from what is going on now.
I also plan to write from the present, so I will offer some of everything. The old articles will have their old dates in order to identify time. Also, they were written over time, but I haven’t figured out yet what time is covered. In that time, I attended college at the University of Wyoming, the University of Arizona, and the University of California at Berkeley.
The boarding school chapel was stifling with the heat of the first day of Spring. Dr. Lee’s sermon, as always, was an opiate rather than a stimulant, calling forth daydreams instead of resolution. Much as we loved him, we were only teen-aged girls, and not yet able to share his dedication.
As I sat mentally lolling, my thoughts progressed backward over my years of religious training. I had grown up in a non-church-going family, with an agnostic father and a mother who did not practice what she professed. Although I was given my religious training by my father, I was always encouraged to go to any church I chose. That was how I came to be sitting in the chapel of an Episcopal boarding school, and how my thoughts happened to turn back to another occasion nine years before.
That first occasion—the one I remembered while Dr. Lee was “sermonizing”-- came to mind for no particular reason that I could think of except that there were similarities between that day and the present situation. My closest friend had asked me to go to church with her at the Presbyterian Church. I was delighted to have a social occcasion to take part in, and this was especially exciting because we were both 10 years old—old enough to go to the main service like grown-ups.
Churches fascinated me, especially since I went to them so seldom, and I loved comparing them. My friend’s church was much plainer than the Episcopal Church at home, and the service was not as mysterious. The minister stood on a platform behind a sort of lectern, but there were no lovely windows to look at, no beautiful altar as at Mother’s church.
I was slumped rather dejectedly in the pew, wishing that I were at home, when down the aisle came two beautiful silver trays, one with crackers, and the other with small glasses of wine. Suddenly the occasion seemed worthwhile. “Ah,” I thought, “refreshments! And it isn’t even Christmas!”
I straightened up on the hard bench, took a fistful of crackers, and two glasses of wine (because they were small), leaned comfortably back on the bench, and ate lunch.
That was all. It was just another pleasant occasion of the type that is soon forgotten. It had not become a memory until the day nine years later when I sat in the boarding school chapel.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” whispered my roommate as Dr. Lee ended his sermon. “Your face is as red as a beet!”
When I was able to muster enough control over myself to answer, I croaked, “I just realized that I already celebrated my First Communion nine years ago!”
This letter is also available on my new blog IT'S NOT POLITICAL-JUST PERSONAL at:
Dear Pat: September 24, 1963
The end is finally in sight! With two winters and two summers of school behind me, I have only one more winter to go before graduation.
Full-time, year-round school has been rather exhausting, especially at my age, but it has been a marvelous experience, and I have enjoyed it much more than I did when I was twenty years younger. Having new things to think about each day has been very exciting—much more so than everyday adult life usually is.
The number of older people going to college now is simply amazing. There have been at least one or two in their thirties, forties, or fifties in each of my classes, and there is even a woman in her eighties who has been a “coed” at least as long as I have. There is probably an even greater percentage of older people attending the night classes at the University.
Of the women I have gotten to know, most, like me, interrupted college by getting married. They have come back now to get their degrees because they are widowed or divorced, or they are preparing for the future. I would guess that most of these older people are planning to teach, but it is hard to tell, because I find that there are whole segments of the University population that I never even see, not being in the same college.
One rather unique aspect of school at this age is that I find my friends’ children are my classmates. I am trying desperately to graduate before my niece does. Incidentally, she gave me a University sweat shirt and pennant for Christmas last year, which tickled me to death. I wear the sweat shirt (at home) and have the pennant displayed in my bedroom.
Another unique aspect of school at this age—homework—is hanging over me at the moment, but I will keep you supplied from time to time with news of the college world. In the meantime, I will be looking forward to your news of the world outside.
Much Love, Anne (Aged 40)
ARW (Aged 86)
A few moments ago, I was watching a CNN newswoman talking on the telephone to a representative of Toyota about her Prius. The Toyota rep, unfortunately, evidently either did not know about the problems currently in the news, or was reluctant to give any information on the subject. The CNN newswoman should have made sure she was talking to a thoroughly qualified representative.
Getting the wrong person on the phone is a problem which confronts many people when contacting businesses of any sort. That may have been the problem in this case. I have had excellent service when contacting the Toyota dealer here in Goleta for any reason.
Unfortunately, I am a month away from 87 years, but fortunately, I was intelligent enough to recognize that fact while driving one day. So I gave my precious car (and my freedom), to my daughter. (The car was free to her, by the way, but she is now saddled with the burden of carrying me.)
Mankind may be close to reaching the end of that span. It won’t happen in our lifetimes, but we have reached a point where what we do and how we live can surely play an important part in determining how we will leave the Earth.. Those of us who have appreciated what we have had must surely feel a responsibility to whoever and whatever follow.
Time was when a man with an idea and an access to money founded a company, hired employees (be they one or a million) to make a product which people would be willing to pay for, and put that product on the market. For many years, this process worked very well in this country, provided a satisfactory living for most people, and built a ladder which those with even more ambition could climb.
Now, however, Humans have increased their numbers, consumed-- and wasted-- a very large part of the resources the Earth has to offer. While the resources are fast disappearing, the Population is fast growing, spreading, and consuming. It is becoming less and less possible for the President and the Government to support a population that is constantly draining the resources at hand.
The President finds himself being blamed for spending too much money-- money for projects like health (which we all need), highways (to employ people and facilitate commerce), and schools (to educate our children). The latter is probably the most urgent need we face, because the ability to think and reason is what makes Humans excel.
And by the way, while talking about employment, remember that government employees are human beings too.
If Man is to continue life upon this Earth, he must be able to recognize his mistakes and crimes, regret and correct them, and realize that he, Man, is only one of many millions of organisms which have made this Earth possible.