Field Guide

Submitted by Ralph Helmick

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Client: Veterans Administration Palo Alto Health Care System

Location: Palo Alto, CA, United States

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $395,000

Project Team

Industry Resource

Paul Kassabian

Simpson, Gumpertz, and Heger

Industry Resource

Renato Giordani

Heavy Industries

Artist

Ralph Helmick

Overview

An epic panel of overlapping imagery stands outside the entrance to the VA’s Polytrauma & Blind Rehabilitation Center. The composition is replicated inside as a suspended cylinder, an optical complication that further challenges viewers. Both screen and cylinder are legible to those with 20/200 vision, a threshold commonly used in defining legal blindness. A third component, incorporating a tactile interface, is for those totally without sight.
The exterior piece is laser-cut steel and measures 9’ high, 20’ wide and 13” deep. The interior cylinder is aluminum and measures 7’-6” high, 6’ in diameter.

Goals

The aspirations for artwork at the VA’s Polytrauma & Blind Rehabilitation Center were substantial, subtle and challenging. Among the challenges was that of creating art for an audience with compromised vision.

In consulting health care professionals attending to returning veterans, a theme emerged—the contemplative value of perceiving Nature during recovery.
Another, perhaps surprising, theme was that the art might perceptually challenge the patients. It should go beyond decoration and formal elegance.

Field Guide is inspired by—and devoted to—the ineffable connection between wildlife and humans.
Through form, light, shadow, and touch, this sculpture aims to encourage a reverent bond with the natural world.

Process

As noted above, consulting with the pertinent health care specialists was extremely helpful.
Similarly, we consulted with museum professionals experienced in engaging the visually challenged.

Navigating the inevitable challenges encountered in any substantial commission was expected, especially in a national political atmosphere with the larger institution undergoing criticism.

The VA, the designers, the contractor and the fabricator were key players, and the journey of realizing the artwork was unusually difficult. Our studio’s reputation as a willing and flexible collaborator was put to the test.
Ultimately, the VA’s gifted and committed interior designer was instrumental in seeing the commission through to completion.

Additional Information

In a place of healing we expect care, hope for connection, and long for comfort. Diversion can help, too, and a sense of enlightened diversion is at the heart of Field Guide.