Sculptor Jud Fine Reflects on the Maguire Gardens’ SPINE

Central Docents, Central Library,
part of Maguire Gardens’ SPINE sculptor
Section of the Maguire Gardens’ SPINE sculptor

The incised metal steps that lead from Flower Street to the Central Library are part of an “art plan integrated with an architectural plan” now known as “Spine,” and the highlight of The Maguire Gardens. It is “not an installation or a sole art project,” says primary artist, Jud Fine. The subject and the greater entity of “Spine” is the library,” which he believes reflects the original intention of Bertram Goodhue’s work as a collaboration with all forms of physical and visual art.

One of the eight different areas of steps that show the evolution of the printed word. Here, the words in English are by Mark Twain written in a letter to his brother exclaiming his excitement about the new invention called, the typewriter and how he could write "an awful stack of words" on one of these.

“Spine” is often referred to as an evolution of the printed word or of language, and Fine agrees. “…this both in the content and the material of the steps: Archaic  copper; Syllabic, brass; Print, bronze; Post-literate, stainless steel. The sections ascend the three pools, which reference the ascension of life forms from fish, amphibian, mammal, human and bird. These emerge from the pools, Bright, Lucid and Clear, underscoring that water is essential to the human body as linguistic sign is essential to the human mind (not to go Cartesian on you),” he added. 

The Perigrine Falcon overseeing the Clear pool was on the endangered list in 1993 and now it no longer is threatened. It is a metaphor for eternal vigilance to safeguard our libraries.

What about reptiles? “They were skipped because at the time it seemed that the movie Jurassic Park was covering that group,” Fine said.

Although Fine did not, as many of us assumed, have much interaction with the librarians, he described them as offering “their enthusiastic support at approval meetings.”

Another surprise is that the upside down head at the base of the top pond (Clear), was not a discard from another project (“a strange rumor,” he said) but, rather, the original head was in a prior work in other material. That work, which has since been de-commissioned, was a large offset balance beam that ran through the branches of an inverted tree of life. Made of fiberglass and copper, it had a large boulder in the roots at the top. This balance beam [of the de-commissioned work] had a face down male head at one end and a face up female head at the other. They were made of bronze,” Fine said. It is the female head which Fine used in “Spine”.

The top pool, CLEAR, also sports what was nicknamed Terminator 3: The Librarian, as a nod to the film Terminator 2, which premiered the same season that SPINE did. Symbols of IUDs from around the world encircle her neck.

“I had the mold from that project and used it to make the head for the library, although this time, with forms around her that are designs for various IUDs, both the upside and downside of technology. It also foregrounded female as the generator of life and just in general because it was about time. Our project was completed around the release of the movie, Terminator 2, which had a lot of images of melting highly polished metal forms, so we took to calling this new polished stainless steel head, ‘Terminator 3: The Librarian’,” he added.

Spine, the Book, and his Collaboration With Harry Reese

As for “Spine,” the book, Fine’s idea was to write a book that was not the usual artist’s book that talked more about the artist than the work. “There was always a conceptual conceit that Spine was a public work, like the library itself. My good friend, and collaborator on this project, was Harry Reese. He and I wrote the book as if a writer had been hired to explain the work, not to laud the artist which is why, except for the beginning, we do not use the first person (I) writing always in the third person (it).”

“The project was awarded to me and I designed it. I had already determined the sections and wanted someone with great knowledge (like Harry) to share the responsibility with me on the individual language and examples selected. I wanted as wide a range geographically and culturally as possible, and my brilliant and good friend Harry agreed to collaborate with me on the content of the steps.” The two have known each other since college.

Harry’s contributions were singular and important, Fine added. “When it came to writing the book after the fact, it seemed petty and demeaning to Harry’s involvement to insist on the fact of my primary authorship and physical execution of the project. It is important to note that lots of people with different skills helped in the execution of the work. The names of everyone who contributed to creating “Spine” are stamped on the inside ring of the bronze world map locating historic library destructions using as an orienting key the arsonist damage to the Los Angeles County Library in 1986. This re-interpretation of Bertram Goodhue and Lee Lawrie’s original “Well of Scribes” is located in front of the first pool, Bright, closest to the Flower Street.

Well of Scribes was designed by Bertram Goodhue and subsequently lost. Fine created a new one, but kept the name as homage to Goodhue. This bronze geographical relief map is im-printed with the location and date of those deliberate or accidental destructions or burnings of libraries, including ours in 1986. 

Fine has taught art on the university level since 1970, and sculpture in the MFA program at USC since 1980. He often collaborates with his wife, Barbara McCarren, as McCarren/Fine, on civic commissions since 1996 and studio work since 2000. Most of their public projects have been in league with architects or landscape architects. Barbara was the artist for Pershing Square and for the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. The two recently finished a project for the recreation center in Rowland Heights. They have also created a comprehensive project called Waterline for The Strand, a multi-block project on PCH in Huntington Beach. They are represented by Ron Feldman Fine Arts, New York and live in Venice, California.

Fine reminds us that Goodhue wrote, in A Celebration of the Arts, that the free public library with access to all, historically and continually, is the primary institution of a democratic society. It, along with art, are usually the first things that a repressive regime wants to eliminate.”

Fortunately, artists like Fine stand up for both art and the democracy of the public library in their vision and execution of seminal work like “Spine”.

Please join us for a docent-led tour of the Central Library.

All Photos courtesy of Docent Diana Rosen