Clyde Lynds “Confluence" at the New Jersey State Capitol Plaza in Trenton rises like an ancient altar among bustling pedestrians. The shining stainless-steel structure spews rainbow-hued water and light. It is at the heart of the newly redesigned Capitol complex between the State Museum and the State House, with its newly gilded dome.
A pair of sculptures engraved with figures from the state seal, "Liberty" and "Prosperity”, flank the entrance to the plaza. At night, beacons on top of the two illuminate the area, while changing fiber-optic displays take flight.
At 35 feet, crossing the line between architecture and sculpture, "Confluence" was designed with lines that reflect the classical buildings on State Street. Like Frank Gehry's design for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, it is a modern form that brings out the best of the older architecture surrounding it. The water in the fountain symbolizes the resources in the state's care, says the sculptor. Every 15 minutes a programmed water show dances from the fountain pavilion.
But that's not all: The names of every town and city in the state are engraved in a granite seating wall around the fountain. A 225-square-foot map is chiseled into the granite platform overlooking the Delaware.
Mr. Lynds got help from the state library to create the map that represents Trenton when it first became the capital. He scanned a map from the state archives into his Mac, reworked it, turned it into a rubber stencil and then had it sandblasted into granite at a quarry in Coldspring, Minn. The engraved granite map was brought to Trenton in 5-foot slabs.
A fountain maker in Texas collaborated with Mr. Lynds to create the water show. "Computerized valves control the ebb and flow of the water,” says Mr. Lynds.
In fact, so many people contributed to this five-year project, Mr. Lynds likens his role to that of a contractor's. "After the design was approved, my job was to manage the budget, get it manufactured, oversee the engineering .... But I've always been a good manager. I made sure we didn't waste a lot of costly time on location. Once all the pieces came together, it went up in a day. You assemble it in the shop, and then assemble it on site like an Erector set.”
Mr. Lynds, who lives on a lake in Wallington, admits to being a frustrated architect. He began his artistic career nearly half a century ago as a painter. After 10 years, in the early 1960s, he became more interested in “light on surfaces and how it would dissolve under the surface. I wanted to work with light itself –
laser projections, polarized light effects – until I found something that responded as a painting would.”
In Buddha’s Seat, exhibited nine years ago at the State Museum, his work took on a spiritual tone. Inspired by Mr. Lynds’ travels to Mexican, Egyptian and Greek ruins, Japanese shrines and temples, and European cathedrals, the sculpture combined an ancient quality with modern technology. The work was largely based on steles – ancient stone pillars, usually engraved, inscribed or painted, and said to have had religious significance. A repeating motif in Buddha’s Seat was a colorful configuration Mr. Lynds had seen on Amish quilts, combining the Coptic cross, Star of David and the Islamic Star.
“I have always been interested in making something seem like something other than what it is; for example, dematerializing stone so it doesn’t look as heavy and immutable,” he says.
This other-than-what-it-seems idea can be seen in "Alabama Moon” in Birmingham, Ala., and "America Song” at the entrance to the Federal Office Building in New York City. At the entry plaza to the Harbert Corp. building, “Alabama Moon” is composed of polished stainless steel topped by an arc of carved stone over three passageways. The central opening frames a stainless steel obelisk, with a stainless steel sphere balanced on its sharp point. At night, a light show on the stone arch spills onto the polished sphere, making the whole thing look electrified.
These “architectural forms suggesting columns, temples and arches…speak of the human desire to communicate across time and to create objects which endure through the millennia,” writes Eleanor Heartney in the Buddha’s Seat catalog. “Thus the play between the somber immobility of the stone and the fleeting light becomes a metaphor for a cosmology based on both continuity and change.”
The Federal Office Building in New York became the focus of much attention when it was discovered that it was being built on a section of an African burial ground dating from colonial times. “America Song” pays homage to the people who were buried there and makes a universal statement about freedom, combining carved stone, poetry and lighting effects.
For the time being, Clyde Lynds has abandoned the stele. “The fountain is not sacred, but it has the calming effect of a European plaza. I let the site dictate what will happen and remain open. There’s euphoria when it’s clicking and you know it’s working right.”
Confluence by Clyde Lynds can be seen daily in the Capitol Plaza on State Street, Trenton, NJ. Water shows repeat every 15 minutes, and fiber-optic light displays appear after dark.