mesquite twig Posted 19 February 2010

Somewhat hidden behind the Science Library, within the Mesquite Garden Plaza, at University of California, Irvine (UCI), is Nancy Doran's series Sculptures in Marble, a collection of 12 figurative sculptures which were carved in Pietrasanta, northwestern Italy, from large blocks of sculptor-favored white Carrara marble. The Doran collection was donated to UCI and installed on April 2, 2005. Before then, the touring sculptures were shown in five museums in Italy.
Michelangelo's Pietà (1497-1499) and David (1501-1504) were carved from marble cut from the quarries of the Italian city Carrara at the feet of the Apuan Alps. While marble can be found worldwide, it's easier to find high-quality white marble in Carrara, unflawed by impurities or hairline cracks, for a price.

By the last day of photographing Doran's collection, I am more aware of the textures of the statues. I notice fine cracks here and there, which makes me wonder if the cracks were there to begin with or if the elements have begun to take their toll.
Doran says her collection "represents the human spirit emerging from the forces that seek to enslave us" (August 2005 UCI press release). In the same interview she adds, "I hope they [the sculptures] will be a voice for the struggles and dreams inside us all." Figures struggle to free themselves from the formless void, while others come to terms with their restricted mobility. The university walkway profiles the creativeness of the human spirit to resist or survive societal restrictions. As I snap my photographs, I note the winter-stripped mesquite trees around me awaiting the surge of spring, as do these trapped figures.

Last spring I watched as someone wiped the sculptures down for visitors from the Braille Institute of Orange County so they could run their hands across the art and "view" the marble garden; the docent for their tour was none other than Nancy Doran herself who was inspired by similar trips by the Italian Braille Society. I run my hand over the surprisingly cold and smooth surface of one of the statues. It is sensual. Touching is a rare privilege favoring a more intimate access to the viewpoint of the sculptor.
figure 8
mesquite tree To get the most out of viewing the collection, one must also take in the immediate surroundings of these sculptures. Shadow arms and trunks of the mesquite trees overlay themselves onto the whiteboard surface of the art, thus claiming and absorbing the marble sculptures into the natural environment. The towering Science Library and campus village housing along the perimeter give the area a feeling of a protected enclosure.

"ADVANCEMENT NEWS: Sculpture installation donated by famed artist Nancy Doran," UCI press release, 8 August 2005.
"Blind students touch art at UCI," by Gary Lycan, Orange County Register, 15 May 2009.
Nancy Doran Braille Event at Sculpture Garden, by phido13,, posted 5 June 2009.
Photos copyright © mid-February 2010 Kat Avila
Time of Day: Mid-morning 9:30-10:30 a.m., noon 11:45-12:15, afternoon 12:45-1:15, mid-afternoon 2:15-3:15 p.m., evening 6:45-7:15 p.m.
Camera: Canon SD780 IS
Notes: Because there are a dozen sculptures, the best definition attainable from each sculpture's unique grouping of shadows will vary according to where the sun or lamps are. I took photographs over a period of five days. Some of the morning shots have a blue tint that works with the spirit of the collection, and some of the night shots have a contrastive butter-yellow tint which I left uncorrected. Additionally, heavy rains this month left ripple patterns of small narrow and dry mesquite leaves on the ground.
Entire Collection (Installed and dedicated in 2005; statues were completed in 1991 and 1993.)
looking toward library
looking toward library
facing away from library
collection     collection
Facing toward the Health Sciences complex, the six statues
on the left are dated 1991 and the six on the right, 1993.
Fig. 1 (An arbitrary designation; I used "Fig. 1" for the statue closest to the collection's signpost and "Fig. 12" for the farthest.)
figure 1 figure 1 figure 1 figure 1 figure 1
at the intersection
Fig. 2
figure 2 figure 2 figure 2 figure 2 figure 2 to 1
Fig. 3
figure 3 figure 3 figure 3 figure 3
view from walkway
figure 3 to 2

Fig. 4
figure 4 figure 4 figure 4 figure 4 figure 4
Fig. 5
figure 5 figure 5 figure 5 figure 5 figure 5
Fig. 6
figure 6 figure 6 figure 6 figure 6 figure 6

Fig. 7
figure 7 figure 7 figure 7 figure 7 figure 7
Fig. 8
figure 8 figure 8 figure 8 figure 8 figure 8
Fig. 9
figure 9 figure 9 figure 9
with motion blur
figure 9 figure 9
Fig. 10
figure 10
Behind the figure are
after-the-rain ripples
of mesquite leaves.
figure 10 figure 10 figure 10 figure 10
Fig. 11
figure 11 figure 11 figure 11 figure 11 figure 11
with motion blur
Fig. 12
figure 12 figure 12 figure 12 figure 12 figure 12
looks asleep