Pomona College Museum of Art Director Kathleen Howe this summer set off for Sweden, home of the northernmost Skyspace created by artist James Turrell ’65, for the first-ever international gathering for owners and caretakers of these sought-after windows to the sky. At each of these Turrell creations, which now dot the globe from Argentina to China to Pomona’s own Draper Courtyard, openings to the sky and shifts in ambient light create fascinating perceptual changes as the sun sets and rises. But the gathering near Stockholm offered something extra.
On a July night in the far north, Howe and 35 others watched in awe as the Skyspace light show went on for more than two hours in the long, lingering twilight. At quarter till midnight, when the show was over, “it was still light enough to walk home through the woods,” recalls Howe.
Pomona’s Skyspace – and the College itself — took on a special glow as well during the three-day gathering. Griffith Observatory Director Edwin Krupp ’66 gave the keynote on archeoastronomy, the study of how past civilizations observed the starry skies, and Howe witnessed he and Turrell entrancing a tableful of attendees with their Pomona tales.
Howe, too, got the chance to address the group, noting the Pomona Skyspace’s unique role in campus life. While some Skyspaces are in private hands and others only accessible during limited hours, Howe detailed the public and accessible nature of Pomona’s “Dividing the Light.” She described how classes use it, and told of families with kids gathering for the nightly light shows and of how she arrived at the campus Skyspace one dawn to happen upon a woman with tears streaming down her face as she sang a hymn beneath it. She told how students time their study breaks to the Skyspace’s color chime and how a student described it to her as “Pomona’s piazza.”
Attendees of the Skyspace gathering “were really taken with the sense of it being part of a living community and a living part of the community,” says Howe. Perhaps Turrell was taken most of all. When her presentation ended, “he got up and gave me this enormous bear hug.”