Origins: Bellingham Sundial Mural Project
Solar scholar and dreamer Sasch Stephens took one look at the south-facing wall at the intersecting streets of Flora and Unity and saw what most others could not: the perfect site for a sundial mural. Calculated to the finest degrees of latitude and longitude, a sundial mural would be an interactive public art piece that harmoniously blends design and function, enjoyed by all who pass through downtown Bellingham.
The building owners at Ciaò Thyme granted their wall space and Allied Arts of Whatcom County agreed to partner with Sasch in support of this public art project. Soon after, a request for design proposals called for artists, muralists, and sundialists worldwide to submit their ideas. A distinguished panel of jurors reviewed 27 submissions from 11 countries around the world. Yet in the end, the winning concept emerged from none other than local Bellingham muralist Gretchen Leggitt, whose design dually illustrates the region’s lasting beauty and forward motion.
Mural design: “Savor the gifts of this hour”
Gretchen’s color palette and design are inspired by the diverse and familiar beauty of our region’s landscape: the iconic North Cascades mountain range and rivers that flow from them, the fertile farmlands of Skagit and Nooksack Valley, and the echoes of the ocean as reflected in the sky. The repetitive, fluid lines throughout this design incorporate Ovoids and S-Curves, forms that reflect the style of native Northwest Coastal Artists and serve as homage to our region’s rich history. The forged steel gnomon, handcrafted by local metal artist Aaron Loveitt, projects out from the heart of the rising sun and casts its shadow across the vast, golden landscape and its hours. It is the keeper of our local time in its truest sense. The color palette captures the immaculate moments of Whatcom’s finest hours: when the fields turn gold-green, the mountains’ alpenglow turns purple, blue and crimson, and the rivers mirror the clouds with their brilliant hues of yellow, orange and rose. This mural’s warm, timeless color scheme will emblazon the south facing wall of Ciaò Thyme, reminding the viewers of the power and beauty of our region’s golden hours and encouraging mindfulness of the celestial movements in the heavens.
Concept design image of the Azimuth Sundial Globe, created as a collaborative effort by Aaron Loveitt, Sasch Stephens, and Woody Sullivan, professor emeritus of astronomy at UW and cofounder of the UW Astrobiology Program. This image is only a rendering of the proposed design.
At the start of 2017, NW Sunworks sent out an RFP seeking artist proposals for a working vertical sundial and mural, to be constructed on a south facing wall in Bellingham on a private building near the downtown core. The project was open to any artist, muralist, sundialist, or team. The winning design would receice a $5,000 award.
Selection Criteria and Process
The selection committee consisted of local Bellingham experts in the fields of art, murals, and sundials, as well as the building owner. Submissions were due on May 31, 2017. The considerations for winning design were be based on:
- Visual impact
- Connection to setting
- Sundial design accuracy
- Budget proposal
The panel ultimately reviewed 27 submissions from 11 different countries.
Sponsorship and Donation Opportunities
Bellingham is a thriving city, ready and eager for dynamic works of public art. Thank you for your interest and support of the arts in Whatcom County!
Donations to the Bellingham Sundial Mural Project will be released to Allied Arts of Whatcom County and are tax deductible.
- Donors over $100 will receive a working miniature replica which can be set on any south-facing window ledge!
- Donors over $250 are eligible for public sponsorship. In-kind donations for supplies are also graciously accepted. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in becoming an official sponsor.
About Vertical Sundials
Sundials on walls, as opposed to the more commonly seen freestanding types, are considered “vertical sundials.” Depending on the design, there are other ways of telling the time, as well. Some historic methods of reading time include:
- Babylonian – Hours since sunrise.
- Italian – Hours since previous sunset.
- Temporal or Seasonal Hours – Divides daylight into 12 equal segments hence summer daylight hours being longer then winter hours.
- Meridian dials or noon marks – focusing on the noon hour and the seasons.
- Moon dials – shepherds had to tell time at night, too.
Although the sundial + mural combination is not common in the U.S, it is very common in some parts of Europe. For example, the small Italian town of Aiello del Friuli is considered the “town of sundials”, clocking in over 100 sundials for about 2,000 residents.
Links to More Information
Check out a comprehensive list of sundials in Washington • Oregon • British Columbia
Bill Nye explains: Sundials • Time Shadows
For more technical information, visit the North American Sundial Society (NASS), a leading sundial enthusiast organization.
Make your own paper sundial!
Teacher Resources from NASS