The renovation and expansion of the Museum allowed us to incorporate functional—and permanent—works of art into the building. Inspired by the artist-designed restrooms at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the Museum invited Ellen Driscoll and Sandy Skoglund (Smith College class of 1968) to design the women’s and men’s rooms, respectively, on the lower level. The artists made the fixtures during residencies in the Arts/Industry Program, which allowed the artists to use the resources at the Kohler Co. factory.
Catching the Drift, by Ellen Driscoll, features four works from the Museum’s collection set in a blue, underwater world of sea creatures and plant life all etched in a series of glass panels. The tendrils and bell of a jellyfish, snagged in a net, float above an image of Camille Corot’s painting Fair Maid of Gascony. Bethiah Bassett of Lee, Massachusetts, painted by Erastus Salisbury Field, peers quizzically out of the fathoms. The American ship’s figurehead Ceres breasts the waves, while Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s Diana of the Tower surfaces like a sleek mermaid. Each of the fixtures is painted with different details of sea life and fishing gear, submerged in pools of deep blue.
The glass panels, fabricated by the Franz Mayer company of Munich, Germany, are described by Driscoll as “translucent optical windows or doors [that] conjure up a watery world beyond the architecture” and refer to the hidden system of pipes that bring water to and from the site. Using computer-controlled techniques, the artist’s designs were sandblasted into the glass layers, and some of the imagery was also reinforced by hand painting.
Liquid Origins, Fluid Dreams, by Sandy Skoglund, is black and white from floor to ceiling. For the wall tiles, Skoglund drew ten creation narratives from different cultures and then ten different images of spattered droplets that alternate with the story scenes. The stories involve wet beginnings, loneliness, and sometimes death and violence.
In the Arctic story, the Creator becomes a raven and is tickled by the grass people to release the sun and light the world. The African god Bumba creates the world from a stomach ache. In the Scandinavian story, twelve rivers are presided over by the ice giant, Ymir, who is eventually killed by his three sons. Australia's original ancestor, Karora, gave birth to bandicoots and sons. In the Native American story, a woman falls from the sky and is supported by a giant tortoise, which becomes the earth.
In the Egyptian story, humankind is created from the tears of the original bird, while in the Mayan legend, people are created from fingers cut from the hand of one of the four original gods. Brahma, the original being of the Indian creation story, took human form to divide himself and reunite in procreation. The Greek goddess Eurynome mated with a serpent and then took the form of a bird; the world was hatched from her egg. The Chinese god Pan Gu was also born from an egg. After his death, humankind was created from fleas on his body.