Vernoculus - CODAworx


Submitted by Dean Ruck Studio

Client: notsuoH

Location: Houston, TX, United States

Completion date: 2022

Artwork budget: $15,000

Project Team


Dean Ruck


Jim Pirtle

notsuoH, 314 Main Street

Lighting Design

Matt Fries


Sculpture of atmospheric fluctuating light and upcycled metal.

Vernoculus is a site-specific sculpture commissioned by notsuoH, an art bar in downtown Houston. Created by artist Dean Ruck, this permanent installation graces the second-floor chess patio, serving as a memorial to Michael Galbreth, a beloved artist and chess player. Vernoculus consists of sixteen repurposed galvanized steel roof vent covers, symbolizing the number of chess pieces on each side.

Dynamic LED lighting brings Vernoculus to life, casting an ever-changing ambient glow over the open-air space. Measuring 40 feet by 10 feet by 50 feet, this sculpture enhances the notsuoH experience, seamlessly blending art and community. It beckons adventurers, poets, performance artists, and chess players from all backgrounds to its offbeat atmosphere.

Vernoculus stands as a testament to the fusion of creativity, camaraderie, and community. It invites visitors to engage with notsuoH’s rich history and distinct ambiance, celebrating the bar as Houston’s most idiosyncratic work of living art, as acclaimed by Texas Monthly. By creating a vibrant and interactive space, Vernoculus serves as a captivating centerpiece, uniting art enthusiasts and fostering a sense of belonging in this unique establishment.


The integration of commissioned artwork into this project served multiple goals. As a well-established nighttime business in a historic building in downtown Houston, the venue sought to enhance its ambiance and social aspect while adapting to pandemic-era open-air requirements. The second-floor patio, a renovated and expanded public space, needed to seamlessly integrate into the existing architecture, eclectic environment, and social dynamics of the establishment.

The choice of repurposed vent covers was instrumental in achieving this integration. Their decades of patina added texture and a historic touch to the space without disrupting the existing aesthetics. By positioning the sculpture as a wall-based installation high overhead, it allowed for movement within the space, while also capturing the visitors' attention and drawing their gaze towards the architecture and the night sky.

The dynamic lighting plays a crucial role in creating the desired atmosphere. It provides both functional and atmospheric lighting, enhancing the overall experience of the patio. The quantity and configuration of the sixteen vent covers served as a subtle homage to Michael Galbreth, the artist and chess player the patio was dedicated to, adding a meaningful layer of commemoration to the artwork.


The collaboration began with the proprietor of notsuoH, Jim Pirtle, who had a personal connection to the commemorative aspect of the project through his friendship with Michael Galbreth, the artist and chess player. Mr. Pirtle engaged Dean Ruck to help transform an unused mechanical roof into a functional public space that would extend the bar lounge and art emporium.

The existing exposed electrical conduit provided inspiration for the nomenclature of the connective moves of the vent hood covers, symbolizing the pieces in a chess game.

To bring the lighting concept to fruition, Dean Ruck collaborated with Matt Fries on the lighting design. Together, they worked on the conceptual approach to the lighting. Matt then applied his expertise in lighting and computer programming to create a customized and choreographed lighting system. The programming allows for dynamic variations in the lighting patterns and can be easily modified through a simple Bluetooth connection to a laptop.

The collaboration between Dean Ruck, Matt Fries, and the team was crucial in realizing the project's vision. Their collective expertise ensured a harmonious integration of the sculpture and lighting, resulting in an immersive and captivating experience for visitors.

Additional Information

The title Vernoculus holds a playful significance in the project. It combines the words "vernacular" and "oculus," along with the name "Vern." During installation, one of the vent cover pieces was unexpectedly graffitied with the name Vern, becoming an ongoing inside joke and source of amusement for the installation team. The title itself reflects the project's intention to celebrate the vernacular qualities of the historic industrial and commercial architecture. It also embodies notsuoH's ambition to be a dynamic and ever-changing social sculpture, constantly evolving and embracing creativity. The repeated circular motif of the vent covers serves as a visual reminder of the oculus of the eye, further accentuated by the infusion of light, adding depth and a mesmerizing quality to the sculpture, enhancing the overall visual experience.