Three years is a long time for newly hatched birds to start flying.
But that's how long Champaign artist Ann Coddington had to wait before her artwork, a flock of 505 black, ceramic-glazed birds, could suspend from the ceiling in Parkland College's Student Union lobby.
Although each bird in the piece, titled "Taking Flight," is different from the others, the flock visually moves as a collective, from east to west, across the lobby's sky. Coddington, an Eastern Illinois University drawing and design professor, called her design choice an apt metaphor for an educational experience.
"The students who have come to Parkland College and have formed relationships go off on their own and are individuals again, but while they are at Parkland, they are part of this really special group," said Coddington, who also taught design classes at Parkland for 10 years.
Installed this past Memorial Day weekend, "Taking Flight" was originally scheduled to soar summer 2015, after Student Union construction was complete. That's when Illinois legislators froze the state budget, including monies earmarked for the project under the State of Illinois Art in Architecture program.
"I was three weeks ahead of installing the work when they froze the budget," Coddington said. “The piece was finished and ready to go when it was put on hold, and the 27 boxes had to be stored in my mother’s basement!”
When the state finally released the funds this past November, she still had to wait until school was out for the summer to finish the project; conditions needed to be right for the delicate work of hanging the birds to begin.
"The installation was quite involved," she said of the work that lasted May 21 to 29. "I had my crew of five assistants. We had to lay a floor, utilize a scissor lift, have special insurance. I also had to be able to cordon off the area."
If the installation phase of the project was intricate, the design and preparation phase was even more so, taking nearly a year to complete.
"Monday through Wednesday I would work at my job, then from Wednesday night on, I'd work along with two assistants for 40 hours or so until I went back to work," Coddington remarked. "It was a really intense production schedule."
First, she had to consider the natural elements--wood, stone, sunlight--that make up the bright, airy space she would be working with.
"The architecture is kind of open, bringing the outside in, so I wanted to continue that concept with the work," she said. "I wanted to respect the established architecture so that the piece I was installing was consistent with design of the space." Next, she wove 10 different bird shapes in an off-loom basket-making technique called twining, made plaster molds of each shape, then poured liquid ceramic slip into the molds, crafting thin shells of clay birds. She would painstakingly retool each bird before it was fired, glazed, then fired a second time.
"When you open the mold and remove the shell of clay, there's a seam where the two halves come together," she explained. "I would redraw the woven texture around each seam so there's not an obvious line; I had to recreate the texture." The number of birds, 505, represents Parkland's district number within the community college system.
While "Taking Flight" is not Coddington's first flock of birds (she had other installations in Cincinnati and St. Louis), it is her first permanent commissioned sculptured flock, one she was happy to complete for Parkland College.
"I loved my time at Parkland, and many of my old friends still work in the Art Department, so I feel honored to have a piece there," she said. "I wanted to create a unique piece for this special place."