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Dale Eldred (1933–1993)
Earth and Sky Garden, 1992-94

View of Earth and Sky Garden in interior courtyard of USF College of Public Health

LOCATION: University of South Florida, Tampa
College of Public Health

“The worship of light is woven through the whole of human existence. If the earth can be regarded as the body of the world…, then light is surely this world’s spirit.” – Dale Eldred, 1990

The commission of Earth and Sky Garden by Dale Eldred for the USF College of Public Health was initiated in 1991. Eldred spent the next two years designing and constructing the project to take full advantage of the skylights built into the facility.

The installation uses a series of diffracting plates to “ignite” the exterior entrance area, interior lobby, and courtyard with the colors of the visible light spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet). The colors can be seen on the diffraction plates themselves and are reflected onto the surrounding walls and windows. The spectrum’s colors are in a constant state of flux due to the sun’s changing position in the sky. This effect is further amplified by the movement of the viewer, whose perception of the colors is affected by their point of observation.

The courtyard presentation is enhanced by a sculptural element featuring a large stainless steel pendulum suspended from the skylight directly over a bronze cone, which is positioned on a perfect granite stone. The tension between the pendulum and the bronze cone, and the celebration of materials suggested by the use of steel, bronze and granite, re-enforces Eldred’s metaphor of the earth as the body of the world, and light as the spirit of the world, in Earth and Sky Garden.

Since the work functions best in strong daylight, Eldred included an element that could speak to the visual spectrum regardless of conditions. In an interior hall adjacent to the courtyard, a series of cones in Plexiglas bonnets are covered in a range of pure powdered pigment on the skin and surrounding area of the cones. These “Visible Range Elements,” as Eldred referred to them, are a stand-alone visualization of the visible spectrum.

Raised in Minnesota, Dale Eldred was the grandson of Finnish immigrant builders. Following his education at the University of Michigan, Eldred moved to Kansas City in 1959 where, within a year, he was named chairman of the sculpture department of the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI). Eldred chaired the sculpture department at KCAI for 33 years and served to influence generations of students and artists. Eldred was the artistic director of Biosphere II, and was a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Visual Studies. Eldred received numerous awards and honors, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the Ford Foundation, the American Institute of Architects and the National Endowment of the Arts. An artist best known for sculptures that blended natural and generated light, Dale Eldred was a victim of the “500-year” flood in the summer of 1993, when the Missouri River inundated parts of Kansas City. Eldred died in a fall trying to rescue equipment in his West Bottoms-neighborhood studio.


View of Earth and Sky Garden exterior column

View of Earth and Sky Garden visible spectrum cones

View of Earth and Sky Garden bronze cone

Dale Eldred’s Earth and Sky Garden was commissioned in 1994 with funds provided by Florida’s Florida's Art in State Buildings Program (F.S. 255.043).