<em>Under the Laurentide</em>, a new work by sculptor Maya Lin, celebrates the form, function, and environmental significance of Narragansett Bay. The sculpture, installed Friday at the east entrance to the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching, was dedicated Wednesday, April 22.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Construction on the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching (BERT) was completed a year ago, but the site got its finishing touch this week with the installation and dedication of a sculpture by renowned artist Maya Lin.

The granite water table titled Under the Laurentide was set into place by crane in front of the east entrance off Waterman Street on Friday, April 17, 2015. It was dedicated with an event that included a talk by Lin on Wednesday, April 22.

A hidden seascape
Carved into Chelmsford granite, contour lines build a 3-D representation of the Narragansett Bay seafloor.
Photo: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Work on the piece began more than a year ago when BERT’s architect Toshiko Mori offered to introduce Brown’s Public Art Committee to Lin. Committee member and David Winton Bell Gallery Director Jo-Ann Conklin said Lin proposed a handful of ideas, including a silver wall sculpture and a wave field that could be set into the green space in front of BERT’s east entrance, before the concept of the water table was chosen.

Made of Chelmsford granite, the hefty sculpture measures 11 feet by seven feet and stands 27 inches high. Its circular tabletop is etched with a topographical map of the bottom of Narragansett Bay, interspersed with small openings that gently pump water out across the surface and over glass dams placed along the edges where water naturally flows out of the Bay. The stone was carved just over the Rhode Island border at Riverside Stone Company in Seekonk, Mass.

Conklin said the piece, named after the Laurentide Ice Sheet that once covered most of North America including the present-day Northeast, is a nod to Narragansett Bay’s importance and history.

Water table
Sculptor Maya Lin, with project manager John Cooke and Jack Alfonso of Riverside Stone, study the first water test of Under the Laurentide.

“Water is essential to life, and the Narragansett Bay is essential to the economic and cultural life of the area,” Conklin said. “Maya's title reminds us of the history of the bay, sculpted tens of thousands of years ago and shaped into the landscape that we know enjoy.”

The theme of the piece is also fitting given the work that goes on inside BERT, which houses the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society.

Conklin said that Lin’s interest in and work on environmental issues made her an obvious choice to be the artist for this piece. One of her most recent projects is an interactive website called What is Missing which aims to draw attention to the global loss of biodiversity and extinct species and what she calls her “last memorial.”

Lin said she hopes Under the Laurentide also makes viewers think about the world around them. “I hope they walk away from it with a curiosity and an awareness of the landscape that is quite literally underfoot.”

Lin is also known for her work on memorials, including the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and, locally, the memorial to heiress and philanthropist Doris Duke in Newport’s Queen Anne Square. Lin has also created several other water tables, including the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Ala., in 1989 and the Yale Women's Table in 1993.

Under the Laurentide is the latest work commissioned by Brown’s Public Art Committee under the Percent-for-Art program, which designates a percentage of construction budgets for public art displays. Additional support for the commission was provided by H. Anthony Ittleson and the Silverweed Foundation.

“I’m really honored and excited for this work to be part of Brown’s public art collection,” Lin said.