PILLAR OF LIGHT

James Colby designed the “Pillar of Light: An Earth Day Revival and Community Sculpture Project" (on view April 22 to November 2018). The monolith measured 13X5X5’ and weighed over 1,600 pounds. It was constructed of 1,056 Ball Jars, shredded paper, galvanized steel, wooden dowels, fiberglass rods, conduit, electrical wire, and LED lamps. There are twenty-two stacked floors or levels. Each layer holds forty-eight jars that circle the edge and rest on steel rings that are attached to a wooden spine in the back.

Each glass vessel contains shreds from area youth’s “Love of Nature” or “Earth Advocacy” artworks. Although the obliterated artworks make each artist anonymous, the ideas and imaginings are embedded within body, mind, and spirit. The reduction of artworks symbolize humanities transient yet ethereal presence within the quantum nature of reality. Hopefully, these “eco-etchings of the heart” will move individuals from selfish to selfless acts, and from individual awareness to a transformative ecological zeitgeist. As in photography, the ”Pillar” represents writing or drawing with (light within the mind), and reveals how children mind’s eyes imagine in order to render and represent Mother Earth’s numinous beauty.

Light radiates from the core of the pillar, passes through each jar and artifact, and into citizens eyes; many envision the “Pillar of light” as a cylindrical skyscraper illuminating the darkness. Through the ages, light has symbolized virtue, eternal truths, genius, and enlightened minds. Philosophers, prophets, and physicist, and other scientists and saints use radiant forms as metaphors. Quantum physics equals Buddhist reality: this parallel vision recognizes the inner light or void as an omnipresent web our wave of intelligence (or God particles), behind every physical illusion we visualize as physical form.

A good friend of mine shared this: “Your ‘Pillar of Light’ represents that which is fleeting yet permanent, transparent yet solid, fragile yet strong. Like all of us, we grow luminous, tall, and protected within a critical mass of supporters. Being connected, as a unified body, mind, and spirit, allows everyone to shine bright and beautiful.” I certainly agree… collaboration, cooperation, and the recognition of Rachel Carson’s unity of all life revelation reflect keys to solving today’s environmental challenges.

The illumination for the “Pillar” is provided by three stages of seven LED tube lights, seven LED work lights, and seven LED flood lamps. LED tube lights are twice as efficient as fluorescent lights and LED flood lights are five to six times as efficient as tungsten lamps. The pillar requires only five hundred and seventy-four watts. Viewers were amazed at the luminosity from the limited wattage.

Sponsors and Collaborators: The GreenUp Jamestown Coalition (GUJC), the Reverend Luke Fodor, a host of community members, and St. Luke’s parishioners co-created the "Pillar of Light." The following Chautauqua County art and science teachers submitted student artworks and Earth Day Pledges: Marygrace Anderson, Jenny Brown, Cheri Burk, Lisa Colby, Mary Maggio, Renee Mitchener, Susan Schrader, Danica Olson-Walter, and Lina Scoma. 

Funding was provided in part by the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization Regrant Program with support from the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo and administered by Tri-County Arts Council. Corporate sponsors include Interlectric Corporation, Warren, Pennsylvania, and Solar Liberty, Buffalo, NewYork. The Episcopal Church of New York City, Jamestown Rotary, and Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, and Arthur R. Gren Co. Inc. sponsored the GUJC lecture series and Earth Day ArtHappening event for the “Pillar Light.” WRFA-LP 107.9 FM and MEDIA ONE GROUP (WWSE, WJTN, WHUG, WKSN, AND WQFX) donated significant radio advertising and numerous interviews with GUJC partners and presenters.

GUJC partners include Audubon Community Nature Center, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Jamestown Community College, Robert H. Jackson Center, Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and Zion Covenant Church.

Over five-thousand residents, young and old, participated in Greenup Jamestown Coalition and “Pillar of Light” activities. The process of talking about Earth Day history, listening to scientists, making art, reading numerous newspaper articles, listening to radio interviews, viewing presenters photographs and films, and contemplating solutions are critical to visualizing and advocating ecological transformations.

Environmental “Hope Springs Eternal!” Rachel Carson changed the world with her will and wisdom, Zen-like observations, poetic verse, and with “Silent Spring.” Other environmental activists, like Lois Gibbs, brought attention to and resolution for the Love Canal disaster. W. Eugene Smith exposed mercury poisoning in Minamata, Japan and brought global awareness and change.

Carson, the mother of the modern environmental movement, sparked a paradigm shift and Zeitgeist—Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Over twenty-three million Americans joined forces to stop the pollution of the environment. Earth-Day equals “Us-Day”… a realization that all life is interconnected, interdependent, and One. Global citizens continue to unite for Earth healing with the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement. The exponential growth of population and today’s local to global ecological challenges require new levels of citizen excellence, collaboration, and cooperation.

James Colby (artist/photographer, environmental activist, former Weeks Gallery director, and co-founder of the GreenUp Jamestown Coalition, lives in Lakewood, New York.