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As the story goes, world renowned Ellensburg artist Richard C. “Dick” Elliott and his wife’s brother Bill spent six weeks applying 3-inch reflectors, one-by-one by hand, creating 24 sections of distinctive designs to the exterior of the Yakima SunDome in 1992 in what would become the largest piece of public art owned by the state of Washington

“Circle of Light” is 880 feet long, a little over 5-feet wide, consisting of about 50,000 reflectors on the SunDome’s tension ring. The very idea that Elliott put up each reflector by hand with an adhesive he patented is something worth preserving.

PRESERVING THE PAST

The Washington state legislature recently passed the capital budget, which includes fully funding the repair and replacement reflectors that comprise “Circle of Light” by the late, great artist from Ellensburg. The restoration is expected to cost an estimated $508,000. The recommendations came from an $80,000 assessment, the first phase of an effort to restore the artwork.

Ellensburg artist Jane Orleman, Elliott’s wife of 38 years, smiled as she reflected back on the spectacle as if it were yesterday.

“Bill was in a bucket extended out from a crane, handing the reflectors down to Dick who was standing on a plank between two 15-foot high scaffolds,” said Orleman, whose expertise was used in the legislature’s Phase I assessment process. “It took them six weeks, working from 5 in the morning to 5 at night.

“Since it was in August, it was extremely hot. But Dick was determined to do the work, one reflector at a time.”

PHASE II

The restoration planning phase has been in the works for a couple of years and now Phase II, which is the actual repair work, is expected to begin on July 1 with an estimated time of completion on June 30, 2022, according to Washington State Arts Commission executive director Karen Hanan.

“I think the legislation understood the project meant a lot to the Yakima region and was something that was not within the arts commission’s normal budget because it’s so big,” Hanan said. “Phase I, which is complete, was coming up with the scope of work, and Phase II is doing the actual work.

“When it’s done, we anticipate it will have a longevity of life of at least 30 years. Typically, the legislation looks at capital project with a longevity of 25 years, so this project well exceeds that.”

ELLIOTT’S LEGACY

The Circle of Light is part of Dick Elliott’s (of Dick and Jane’s Spot) legacy. His work is up in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, around Ellensburg on the sidewalks, public library and on display at Morgan Middle School.

His work is reflective of the times and the unique style in which he reaches his audience around the world.

“I feel because of COVID-19, the legislation recognized the importance of the arts and who we are, where we came from and to honor our culture,” Gallery One Visual Arts Center executive director Monica Miller said. “Dick Elliott is a shining example of what that is, more specifically to Ellensburg.

“Circle of Lights is the largest piece of public art the state owns. It’s also awesome for Ellensburg to have a connection to this. It’s exciting that they are recognizing Dick, who is world renowned for his work, and restoring it for future generations.”

RESTORATION

Time and the elements of sun and wind have taken its toll on the Circle of Light. According to the report, 42% of the reflectors have fallen off. Some have dropped out of their plastic backplates, the white ones in particular. Other reflectors and their backplates are gone. Some have dulled, especially the green ones. So, its time for a facelift for the display closing in on three decades.

“It’s been 30 years ago. Materials were a little different back then,” said Orleman, whose work hangs in the mezzanine at Gallery One as part of the Open Show. “The reflectors were made differently and the glue seal has improved.

“This is very exciting they are making the improvements and now it will last another 30 years.”

Experts recommend replacing all 50,000 reflectors and changing the adhesive used to attach the artwork to the building. The capital budget for the 2021-23 biennium will fund the purchase of 50,000 replacement reflectors, labor, conservation oversight, lifts and scaffolding.

Rodney Harwood: award-winning journalist and columnist. Lover of golf and the written word. I can be reached at rharwood@kvnews.com

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