Johnny Gordon of Gordon Glass Studio in Louisville, Ky., established his own custom glass design studio in 2005. Over the last 10-plus years, Gordon has created custom designs for a number of large commercial projects. One such installation is at the Norton Brownsboro Hospital, also in Louisville, which features a glass, copper, bronze, and brass design that looks like hanging tree branches with leaves. From each of the branches hangs clusters of miniature mobiles (think over a baby’s crib) that are made of copper leaves wrapped in brass wire. i+s recently spoke with Gordon to learn more about the project.
When was Arborvitae developed for the Norton Brownsboro Hospital?
It was created in 2009.
How did the name come about?
“Arborvitae” means “Tree of Life.” I thought it was pretty fitting for a hospital.
Who designed it?
What was the inspiration for Arborvitae?
The hospital’s request was for a hanging sculpture that promoted a “sense of healing,” incorporating “modern and clean lines.” My immediate thought was of walking through the woods—leaves fluttering down in fall ... peaceful.
What was the biggest hurdle in bringing the project to life?
The thing that concerned me the most was the amount of movement I was going to be able to achieve with the pieces hanging inside. There was a lot of open space, so the branches needed to be pretty substantial. There were two small vents in the lobby wall that would blow occasionally and allow me to adjust the direction of the air a little bit, but I didn’t feel that I could count on that to really move things around. I decided that having a bunch of moving parts would work better.
How was the response to the project?
One of the benefits of having the installation here in Louisville has been the constant feedback I get from people. I’ve had friends tell me that someone they know commented on how calming it was, or how the leaves really caught the light. I’ve met nurses and doctors who told me they like to stand under it while taking a break. Overall, I would say that it was a successful project for everyone.
What is your hope for the Arborvitae installation?
Hospitals run the gamut of emotion, from the joy of birth to the finality of death—the good news, the bad news, and the waiting. My hope for the mobile has always been that it provides a little moment of peace and comfort to whomever needs it. Something to watch that isn’t a television and doesn’t require much thought. A little spot of Zen amidst the emotional chaos.
Are there any similar ideas on the horizon?
I have a few different ideas for similar suspended projects—sticking with the nature theme and using a lot of small movements through the
incorporation of glass and copper.
What’s something that people don’t know about the project?
I made initial predictions of how many glass leaves I would need to sufficiently cover each one of the branches. I cut a little more than 600 glass leaves. But once I finally started soldering everything in place, I realized I needed to double the amount that I had. As with any project, time was important and dwindling. I cut and fired another 600 glass leaves. My wife suggested that I invite some friends and family to come to our backyard, eat some food, and learn to wrap leaves; 40 people showed up that Saturday and we wrapped more than 1,200 leaves in total.
Photography courtesy of Johnny Gordon