by Heather Morales
photography by Melissa A. Collett
Standing in the yard of Star Iron Works, sculptor George Stone points and describes each different part of the large rocks that he has been creating for the last five years. “This one weighs about 42,000 pounds,” he says “and it’s the smallest of the four.”
The others are still being built and are piles of steel, rebar and steel mesh waiting for the cement to be poured.
Stone, assistant professor of art at the University of La Verne, has created these large rock sculpture formations for the downtown Los Angeles Metrorail station at Beverly Boulevard and Vermont Avenue, 30 miles from La Verne. The station will be on the route of the Red Line, scheduled to open in 1998.
Stone was commissioned by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) through the Commission for the Metro Arts Program to design the art for the Metro station. “The MTA sponsored a national competition that developed the artwork for the stations,” says Stone, who was selected by the Commission.
Right now, though, the half complete rocks are sitting in the Star Iron Works yard waiting to be completed, cut and then transported by truck for the hour-long trip to the station where they will then become an integrated part of the design.
The art professor, who works on an 88 percent contract to allow time for outside art projects, started his third year at the University this fall.
“I teach beginning sculpture, drawing and drawing techniques and materials,”he says. Along with the beginning art classes, Stone leads advanced classes in mixed media and art experience.
He says that he works with almost every medium available in his sculptures, and so it was not difficult for him to create the rocks for the Metro station.
While the sculptures are his own work, Stone worked in conjunction with an architect to collaborate the artwork with the architecture of the station. The design and development stage of the project began in 1991.
“It is done way in advance because of all the planning that has to be done as far as putting a subway station underneath the city,”he says.
The station itself was started in January 1996. The fabrication of the art work began in March, and it will be completed in fall 1997.
“It went through many changes from beginning to end. I pushed it in a lot of different ways until coming to this final solution,” says Stone. He says he would have liked for the original rocks to have stayed in place. “Initially, at one point in the project, I wanted to leave some of the real rock that was actually underground, but because of building codes and seismic issues, [the design] was not structurally strong enough to support the structure of the station.”
Stone says that he and the architect, Anil Berma of Anil Berma and Associates, ended up working well together.
“When the two parties come together, they’re expected to work as a collaborative team so that the artwork gets integrated and is developed at the same time as the Metrorail station itself. In some cases here, the artist’s work is very integrated into the station because of the good working relationship.”
He adds that the working relationship grew to one of strength. “In the beginning we had a tough time together, but in the end, as the project developed, we ended up having a good working relationship,” says Stone about Berma.
“What I was interested in was how the architecture interfaces with the geology. The architects themselves take a very classical approach to the architecture, and my approach to it was to interrupt the architecture with representations of the geology that existed beneath the ground,” he says.
The rocks will be placed in the walls and ceiling of the station, 50 feet below the street. “The project that I took was to develop it to appear as though the rock formations that were already underground were left intact, and the station was actually being built around them,” says Stone. “The project is a relationship of how the architecture functions with the geology of the earth.”
He says he got the inspiration for the look and texture of the rocks on a hike through Topanga Canyon. The design of the rocks also came from sonar surveys taken of the site.
Stone is no stranger to the Metrorail or even the Metrolink (they are two different companies). He lives in Los Angeles and sometimes rides the trains to work at Star Iron Works or the University of La Verne. “It’s just more ecological,” says Stone. “I sometimes sit and read, or I prepare for class while I’m on the train.
“A lot of people take the Metrolink from this area. I live in the city and work in the suburbs, and most people live in the suburbs and work in the city,” he says about his commute.
Others making the commute in the future will undoubtedly marvel at the design of the award-winning ULV art professor who designed from steel, rebar and cement something as natural as a rock and incorporated it into the design of an underground station for all to view and enjoy.