SALT LAKE CITY — Like many people, Laura Sharp Wilson uses marker and paper to let her creativity flow. Using this method, the local fine artist drew the concept for a terrazzo floor design in the grand lobby of the soon-to-open George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater.
Sake Lake County Center for the Arts will run the $119 million theater, which is designed to hold Broadway-type events, said Cami Munk, communications manager for Salt Lake County Center for the Arts.
Wilson's terrazzo floor design was recently completed and is one of two commissioned art projects intended for the theater. “Thread, Trail, Rope and Yarn” is her first commissioned public art piece.
“This is a whole new facet to my career as an artist, and that’s really exciting.” Wilson said after a recent preview of the completed floor. “I think it’s going to be one of the best and biggest things I ever do."
Wilson’s creative process for the floor design began when the Salt Lake Arts Council requested qualifications for artists to do a public art project for the Eccles Theater.
Wilson responded, initially presenting three different projects. The board gave her the option to choose, and Wilson chose the terrazzo floor design, which includes the 127-by-35-foot entryway and a 1000-by-26-foot lobby.
Wilson said she factored in various elements that eventually embodied her design, taking into account the existing atmosphere of the building and what she could do to have her design reflect the Salt Lake Valley and the groups of people who have inhabited it.
Embodying the local muse
Wilson said the one thing she was clear about from the beginning was which colors she would use.
She drew her color inspiration from driving in the spring, "seeing the sage weed and that dusty purple," she said, adding that she also drew inspiration from the valley's sunsets.
But though Wilson had chosen her colors, she said, she had a harder time pinning down the actual design.
“I just did tons and tons of drawings,” she said. “It was the only way for me to work through the idea.”
While searching for direction, Wilson said, she pondered what concept could be a common link for the different peoples who have occupied the Salt Lake Valley.
“I love Native American artwork, so it just got me sort of on this weaving concept,” she said.
She said she realized that not only did the Native Americans have a weaving tradition, but so did the pioneers who later settled the area. She knew she wanted the concept to have a modern feel, to mirror the design of the building, and she realized weaving was also present in modern artist Annie Albers’ work.
When she landed on the thread and weaving concept, Wilson said, “That’s what seemed right.”
After choosing the title “Thread, Trail, Rope and Yarn,” Wilson said she was happy with the idea that the “yarn” could represent the various stories of people traveling and the tales “that are told out west.” She saw other connections emerge, including her series of “stick segments” arranged in a line, which became a “crosswalk” or “trail” to her.
After many attempts, Wilson said, she finally landed on a more abstract concept that she felt bounced off the harder lines prevalent throughout the theater.
“It is abstract but still a very specific reference,” Wilson said. “That’s why I’ve been really happy with this.
'It's just art'
Wilson contracted Finn Wall Specialties for the terrazzo installation. Wilson said she feels lucky the installation process has gone smoothly.
“Everything just sort of clicked,” Wilson said. “It’s been relatively low-stress.”
Wilson’s design lies atop an aggregate floor, with the aggregate being made up of mother-of-pearl, crushed glass and other materials. Wilson chose a different aggregate as a background for her design, one with fewer reflective elements, in order to give the colors in the design a more matte look, she said.
“We actually printed out the drawings to scale and rolled them out,” Wilson said. “That’s how the whole design was transferred.”
Wilson said she did some hands-on work so she could understand how the floor would be done, and she learned terrazzo work is “a very labor intensive process.”
Adrian Morales, the terrazzo superintendent, has been heavily involved in physically producing the terrazzo design. He said the process is a lot like learning to ride a bike: bumpy in the beginning, but once “you get ahold of it, you’re good.” He said he is very happy with the results.
“Everybody’s like, ‘What is it supposed to be?’” Morales said. “The quickest way to explain is: It’s just art.”
From inspiration to reality
Wilson said she is happy with the organic feel the design has, how it interacts with the style of the lobby and how it “seeks to work in the space.”
“It’s going to be an amazing room for the whole city, I think,” said Gina Narracci, a design architect for the Eccles Theater. “We’re just all very excited.”
Narracci said she enjoys how the sun plays a key role in the feel of the theater, changing the lobby from day to day and from season to season, even changing the look of Wilson’s piece.
“It’s especially interesting now that Laura’s floor is completed because the sun and the shade and the shadow interact with that in a way we really didn’t think about too much,” Narracci said.
While the terrazzo design was recently completed, the 5,000-square-foot area will undergo a few finishing touches before the theater's opening.
“It’s been incredible to see something that was on a piece of paper, that was small scale, on this huge amount of square footage,” Wilson said.
She said the marker she used in her original designs had a watercolor-type quality, something she said she feels “comes across in the terrazzo.”
“I love the way that the colors are so delicate,” Wilson said. “That encourages it looking like a drawing; it has that lightness of pencil.”
Wilson said she was surprised by how closely the final product emulates her original design. She’s honored to be doing this project in Salt Lake City, she said, since she moved to the city in 2009.
Though Wilson created the design specifically for this project, she said, she’s glad her own artist voice is present, and she feels the piece is indicative of her work.
“It’s very true to work I’ve been doing to the past 15 years, even longer,” Wilson said. “I feel like people who know my work can look at that floor and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s totally Laura.’”
Anticipation for 'what could come'
Sean Morgan, director of planning at GTS Development, said the theater is 80 percent complete. Construction is scheduled to end Aug. 19, and the theater is scheduled to open Oct. 21, he said.
Before this project, Munk said she didn’t know what it meant to “make a building.” She said she’s glad that she understands the theater “from the inside out, from the basement to the top.” Munk said she’s appreciative of the devotion for the arts in the area.
“That’s the exciting part, is that the county and the city are really invested in the arts,” Munk said. “It’s really fun to be a part of that.”
She said she’s excited for the theater’s opening and what the future holds.
The first season of touring Broadway productions includes a dozen shows, including “Matilda the Musical,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” “Beautiful — The Carole King Musical,” Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” “Dirty Dancing — The Classic Story on Stage” and “The Lion King."
“I think it’s exciting to think about what could come and what is coming, the stuff that we’ve already booked and the stuff that is yet to be booked,” Munk said.