PRATU: Passage and Transformation

In ancient Siam, or modern Thailand, pratu means “City Gate” Not just a doorway, a formal entrance, a passage, which suggests a transformative experience. Brea Plaza, located directly in front of the northbound 57 Freeway off-ramp at Imperial Highway, is considered to be a “Southern Entrance” to the city of Brea, California.

I was a graduate student in the Art Department at Cal State University, Fullerton in 1976 when I was commissioned to make a 7- foot diameter circular stained glass window for a bank in the brand new Brea Plaza Shopping Center. I had been experimenting with including small blown glass objects in residential stained glass windows. In the glass studio at CSUF, I made a wooden blowing mold to create relief glass tiles that were leaded into the center of the window. The window attracted some attention from the architectural glass world and it was published on the cover of Glass Studio Magazine!

34 years later, the new owners of Brea Plaza contacted me. The bank had been demolished during a remodel, but the owners had removed and crated my window. They asked me if I was interested in designing a piece of sculpture that would incorporate the window or some part of the original stained glass, for the newly remolded center. The sculpture was to be part of the city of Brea’s “Art in Public Places” program.

My first glass studio was in a tiny store-front in Old Town Brea in 1975 and I was delighted to revisit not only the town where my 35 year career as an artist began, but to actually make a new work on the site of my first public architectural commission.

My transformation from that student to my position today as Professor of Art and Head of the Glass Program at Cal State Fullerton, parallels (in some ways) the metamorphosis of the city of Brea.

The sculpture consists of three elements. A thick, heavy, copper-clad wall or barrier with a round opening and a streamlined stainless steel vessel captured in mid-transit through the opening in the wall. The third element is a strip of circular glass tiles (from the original bank window) centered as a “passenger” in the projectile as it passes through this ancient portal. The work presents my experience of passage and transformation. The slick horizontal element generates motion; the weathered vertical wall simultaneously presents an obstacle and a doorway. Life’s challenge is not locating doorways to opportunity so much as it is finding the energy and courage to pass through them.

Professor John Leighton,
Fall, 2011