Category Archives: 1960’s

Proteus Fountain ~ 9th & H

Summer in Sacramento, the perfect time to seek out public art in the form of fountains.

A large fountain spraying cool water into the air surrounded by dozens of trees creates a nice respite in the courtyard at the entrance of the Gordon D. Schaber Sacramento County Courthouse. The fountain is a 32′ diameter sculpture wrought from bronze and cooper by Aristides Demetrios in 1965 and titled, Proteus (1).

In Greek mythology, Proteus is the “Old Man of the Sea” and shepherd of the seals who could assume the form of his choice (2). Thus the adjective protean has positive connotations of flexibility, versatility and adaptability (3). I don’t know whether the piece was placed in front of the courthouse with that symbolism in mind, but I very much like that to enter the threshold of this courthouse, one must pass a symbol of flexibility, versatility and adaptability.

For a good photo of the entire fountain from above, click here, and for a 60’s era photo from another angle click here.

Demetrios has another public art piece in the Sacramento area, Cosmos, a red sculpture towering 80′ tall at Olympus Pointe in Roseville (4). Cosmos was installed in the late ’80s on a hill next to the freeway exit near Sierra Junior College. The sculpture must have been very new when I started at Sierra in the fall of 1988, and it remains a landmark to me of that time in my life because we passed it every day driving to campus.

One of the world’s largest aeolian harps (wind harps) was designed by Demetrios and sits atop a hill in an industrial park in San Francisco (5). The harp is 92′ tall and the hill provides a stunning view of the area.

Every year in March, my uncle (an amputee from Vietnam) participates in the Bataan Memorial Death March in New Mexico as a fundraiser for his organization, Disabled Sports USA. This is relevant to this post because Demetrios created a memorial to the Bataan War called, The Eternal Flame of Freedom, that sits on Corregidor Island in the Philippines at the entrance to Manilla Bay. The original Bataan Death March was:

the forcible transfer, by the Imperial Japanese Army, of 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war after the three-month Battle of Bataan in the Philippines during World War II, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of prisoners. The 60 mi (97 km) march was characterized by wide-ranging physical abuse and murder, and resulted in very high fatalities inflicted upon prisoners and civilians alike by the Japanese Army, and was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime. (6)

The sculpture by Demetrios “commemorates the sacrifices, hopes and aspirations, and the heroic struggle by the United States and the Philippines to preserve freedom for future generations. The sculpture stands as a reminder that all men will fight as one if need to be to defend a nation’s liberty. (7)

Appropriate for an Independence Day post.

This detail shot shows how mini-fountains are created within the fountain by the varieties of shapes within the design.

A close-up of the fossil-like design on the metal plates.

As I took photos of the fountain, I wondered if the design includes movement of the water jets or variance in the water pressure. I imagined that one might see a very different looking fountain depending on how the water flowed over the wild metal shapes of the sculpture.

Today and tomorrow the forecast is for 100°+ heat; a good time to enjoy our local fountains.

Title: Proteus
Artist: Aristides Demetrios (
Date: 1965
Media: Bronze and Copper
Location: 9th between G & H

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Fuller Poles ~ 16th & Q

The Fuller Poles at 16th & Q enliven the corner of the parking lot of what was once the Fuller Paint store. The sculpture was created by the designstudio of famed graphic designer, Saul Bass, as part of an identity campaign for the Fuller O’Brien Paint Company in the early 1960’s (1). It consists of 81 poles set in a 9 x 9 grid (2).

Originally, all 81 poles were painted a different color (3). They have been repainted at least twice and reduced to about half of the original 81 colors. One site reports that the poles are currently painted 32 (4) colors and another reports 45 (5).

Bass subcontracted this 3D work to a friend, Herb Rosenthal, and the poles were actually designed by Dick Hastings who worked in Rosenthal’s firm (6). Hastings eventually moved to Sacramento; he had an interest in historic buildings and became the city’s first preservation director (7).

Researching this sculpture is the first I’ve heard of Saul Bass. He has an interesting design history:

Saul Bass was one of the nation’s leading graphic designers from 1960 to 1990. He became famous for some of his logo designs for numerous national companies including Quaker Oats, Girl Scouts of America, AT&T, United Way and United Airlines. Bass was also known for his design of film titles, including Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho. (8)

The poles were first designed for the 1964 World Fair but they were never used for that project (9). Initially, they were designed to be freestanding so they would move with the wind. However, this design proved too costly, so a steel grid was attached to the top in order to restrain the poles from movement (10).

This sculpture is dubbed a Mid-Century icon in Sacramento (11). Mid-Century style “followed the Modernist fashions of the day, including then-new materials like concrete, glass and steel, and new styles inspired by Bauhaus, Prairie and International Style schools of architecture.” (12).

Today, Midtown [Sacramento] is best known for its Victorian and early 20th century architecture, but examples of mid-century architecture and design can be found alongside century-old Queen Annes and heritage trees. During the mid-century era, Midtown’s colorful Italianates were considered gaudy firetraps, Craftsman bungalows plain and uninviting, and revival styles simply unfashionable. Minimalist but bold, Modernism was far better suited to the exciting space-age era of high-speed freeways, jet airplanes, and nuclear power. (13)

Because the sculpture is on private property, it is not protected as public art. The fate of the Fuller Poles lies with the owner of the property. It is encouraging that the poles have been painted in recent years. It is also encouraging that during the opening celebration of BloodSource (the current tenant) in Oct 2009, they handed out “a special poster to celebrate the BloodSource center, its donors and the Saul Bass commissioned poles” (14).

Under the grid is an array of lights and here is a fabulous nighttime photo from another blog:

Photo from The Mehallo Blog article by Michael Kennedy

Title: Fuller Poles
Artist: Saul Bass / Dick Hastings
Date: 1960’s
Media: Metal
Location: 16th & Q

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