Alexandria Artist Goes Big in Capitol Hill Renovation

Sigethy’s Ocean Stairway is one of seven commissioned artworks going into the newly renovated Maury Elementary School located in Ward 6 on Capitol Hill.

Alison Sigethy in Torpedo Factory studio. (Photo: Courtesy)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Alexandria artist Alison Sigethy has been making kinetic glass sculptures called Sea Cores since 2010. She always thought they would look great big — really big — now, thanks to a public art commission made possible by DC Public Schools and the DC Department of General Services’ (DGS) Percent for Art Program, she and the Capitol Hill community will get to see one 40 feet tall.

Sigethy’s Ocean Stairway is one of seven commissioned artworks going into the newly renovated Maury Elementary School located in Ward 6 on Capitol Hill.

“Through my art I bring the outside in and make the inaccessible accessible. While I make no attempt to portray actual plants or animals, I strive to create beautiful work that pays tribute to the natural world, reminds us to slow down, and helps reconnect us with nature. In Ocean Stairway, I am using a large photomural of one of my Sea Core kinetic glass sculptures to create an immersive deep sea environment which captures the tranquility and the power of the ocean while reminding us of its fragility,” says Sigethy.

Artist rendering of Ocean Stairway at night. (Photo: Courtesy)

About the Work and Where it is Going

The school was built in 1886 and named for John Walker Maury, the 14th mayor of the city of Washington. It has been in continuous operation for nearly 130 years but was in desperate need of modernization. DC Public Schools (DCPS) invested $52 million into this project, and when students return later this month, they will walk into a beautifully expanded school designed by DLR Group to meet 21st century design standards.

The Maury community considers the physical building a third teacher, along with parents and classroom teachers. The renovated school is thematically organized into biospheres, and Sigethy’s three-story Ocean Stairway unifies the different biospheres featured on each floor. But it does more than that, explains Sigethy. “The stairwell is a large space, but because of its shape, it feels intimate. It’s the perfect spot to create an immersive environment for the students. I love artwork in surprising places, and taking a virtual deep dive through a shimmering ocean scene will make going up and down the stairs exciting and fun.”

Ocean Stairway, interior detail photo during installation. (Photo: Courtesy)

According to Sigethy, “stairwells are large dramatic spaces that offer enormous potential for creative space-making, but they are often overlooked. The design team here really nailed it.” A key architectural element of the school is the three-story corner window located in the stairwell. The window will provide ample natural light in the stairs during the day, but to Sigethy, it had another equally important function. “By covering the window in printed architectural film, I am able to continue the ocean mural and create a cohesive design for the students. But at night, the film on the window turns that three-story corner window into a beautiful glowing sculpture for the entire community.”

Offering Students Enhanced Environment

Eric Joerdens, Project Architect at DLR Group, notes “Alison’s Ocean Stairway transforms the stair and corner window, while connecting the child to larger ecological systems. A student will walk up these stairs hundreds of times in their elementary school career. The artwork offers an opportunity for the child to have a meaningful experience as they imagine the wonders of our oceans through the playful artwork. This has the potential to spark the curiosity of a child and serve as a metaphor to the community for how we as individuals and as a species collectively fit into our larger community and environment. Not only is the artwork captivating, it provides a learning opportunity for the children.”

The newly remodeled school will open with a ribbon cutting on August 26th.

Sea Core sculpture used for Ocean Stairway mural. (Photo: Courtesy)

About the Artist

Alison Sigethy is a professional artist who works out of her studio in the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia. She graduated from Marymount University in Arlington with degrees in interior design and art history. Her work focuses on issues such as ocean conservation, substantiality, ecology and environmental education. She has exhibited her work nationally, and has been written up in American Craft Magazine, Smithsonian, Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post and USA Today.