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Spaceport sculpture ‘Genesis’ reaches for the stars

Sculptor Otto Rigan created this $200,000, 11,000-pound steel sculpture titled "GENESIS." It was installed last month in a roundabout at the entrance Spaceport America property. (Courtesy of Otto Rigan)

Sculptor Otto Rigan created this $200,000, 11,000-pound steel sculpture titled “GENESIS.” It was installed last month in a roundabout at the entrance Spaceport America property. (Courtesy of Otto Rigan)

A $200,000, 11,000-pound, 40-foot-long by 5-foot-deep steel sculpture titled “GENESIS” has been installed in a roundabout at the entrance of the Spaceport America property.

It’s a large arc facing upward. Inlaid into the metal are round glass pieces containing mirrors that represent the stars.

Sculptor Otto Rigan said the glass pieces, raised about a half inch from the metal, are in a pattern that copies the stars seen over the spaceport in the summer sky. “I took a section of the night sky star chart, simplified it and turned that into a pattern that could be inlaid on the inside of the sculpture,” he said

Three years ago, the stars aligned for Rigan, when he happened upon a notice seeking an artist to do work for Spaceport America.

For starters, Rigan was born in the Mojave desert, at Edwards Air Force Base, an aerospace hub that nowadays happens to be near the site of testing on a key vehicle for Virgin Galactic, Spaceport America’s main tenant. By age 1, his family had moved to Roswell, home of rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard and ground zero for extra-terrestrial legend.

In the course of Rigan’s career, he’s lived in Santa Fe three times. And he said he maintains a studio in Belen, where he’s quarried stone for various sculptures for nearly three decades. These days, he lives in Tucson.

The spaceport’s 2012 call for artists struck a chord, Rigan said.

“The Southwest desert – I absolutely adore it,” he said. “I felt this whole region was really my home ground.”

Rigan, whose portfolio includes diverse works in stone and glass and paintings, applied – one of 222 artists who submitted proposals, according to the New Mexico Cultural Affairs Department.

The pool was narrowed to five finalists, and a six-member panel voted to award the $200,000 project to Rigan on Dec. 14, 2012. Funding came from the pool of dollars used to build the $218.5 million Spaceport America, as part of an assessment made on large state projects to benefit public art, state officials said.

Sculpture mandates

In designing the sculpture, Rigan said he faced “one of the oddest mandates” he’s ever had as an artist. The piece couldn’t obstruct the view from one side of the roundabout to the other or interfere with the path of a 100-foot rocket fuselage being driven by on the adjacent road, the main route into the spaceport.

RIGAN: Artist has a love for the desert

Sculptor Otto Rigan was born at Edwards Air Force Base, which is near a Virgin Galactic landing site. Virgin Galactic is the main tenant at Spaceport America. (Courtesy of Otto Rigan)

Other considerations, Rigan said, were the sculpture needed to keep in step with a spaceport goal of keeping a low visual profile – intended to reduce impact to the historic Camino Real trail. Rigan said he wanted the design to be symbolic of the mission of Spaceport America.

“In the end, I made an arc, which to me is something that looks like it’s reaching up,” he said.

The glass inlays give the piece a changing look, as the desert light shifts throughout the day. At night, it reflects starlight or moonlight.

The sculpture was fabricated in Phoenix, sliced into three segments, hauled to Spaceport America and reassembled.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Christine Anderson said she’s “really pleased with it” and said it will help to add to the tourism element of the spaceport.

“I think it’s very uplifting,” she said.

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