The inspiration for art comes from the site itself.
That's how artist and sculptor Rebecca Thompson of Tucson, the creator of the Gathering Place public art installation at Sanofi-aventis' research and development center on Innovation Drive in Oro Valley, describes the beginnings of the artistic process.
Her creation — an oversized curved wall, gateway and freestanding cube — all rammed earth structures inlaid with bronze panels, is the centerpiece of a garden that has plants selected to encourage wildlife, butterflies, song birds and hummingbirds to visit.
Thompson said the scope of the public art installation is based on the Sanofi-aventis motto, Health Matters.
"If we define health as a balance, within nature and within the human biological system, then it's important to show this balance in the art," she said.
Thus, she incorporated wood, water, metal, stone and earth into her sculptures, with the sun and wind also playing a part. The curved wall includes a horizontal bronze panel depicting a single fish swimming through water from beginning to end, which Thompson called a metaphor for "water, life, hope, the individual pursuit of life and being in the mystery of life."
The cube, in the center of the Gathering Place, includes a large triangular bronze form with three-dimensional text and a smaller bronze feature. The cube also has a hand-carved waterway on top and a hand-carved stone system at its base for funneling rainwater to a mature velvet mesquite tree.
The two gateway features, Thompson pointed out, "have openings and notches to symbolize unlocking the mysteries of life, key holes, facets and lock systems."
Spanning the width of the circular Gathering Place is a linear seat constructed with 100-year-old wood, stone and slate.
"This gathering space encompasses the essential relationships between nature, humanity and scientific discovery," Thompson said.
She named the space "Sarvodaya," a Sanskrit word meaning "for the welfare of all." The intention of the site, she said, is to mirror the vision of Sanofi-aventis scientists as they work to identify new compounds and elements that can contribute to promoting health.
Thompson (www.rebeccathompsonsculpture.com) holds a maser's of fine arts degree in sculpture and architectural planning from Cornell University and often works on monumental public pieces.
"I'm an artist who creates environments where there's an emotive and historical quality," she said. "I go to a site, find out about the people there and the site itself, and begin building a concept. With Sarvodaya, I tried to incorporate symbolism to represent the clean earth, water and medicine that we all want."
Thompson, who next will serve an artist-in-residency for the U.S. Forest Service at the Petrified Forest National Park Science and Education Center, has created public art for numerous businesses and municipalities, including the cities of Tucson and Phoenix.
Another piece of public art commissioned by Sanofi-aventis stands near the building's entrance —a 28-foot-high welded steel Centennial sculpture created by artist Joe Tyler of Surprise.
"It's a play off of an agave century plant," Tyler said, "and even though it's a couple of years early, it represents the state's centennial in 2012."
Tyler made the sculpture with 100 leaves on the agave stalk, each representing a year in the statehood of Arizona, and with 15 blooms, representing Arizona's 15 counties. The stalk itself is textured with welding beads to make it appear like a wood stalk.
The Centennial sculpture also incorporates acrylic light fixture lenses powered by solar lighting.
Tyler (www.artistic-vision.com) specializes in large scale pieces, working in steel, copper, brass, stone and other masonry materials. He's created pieces for municipalities, institutions and businesses around the country, and recently made sculptures for Oro Valley and Tucson.
Beth Koch, site director for Sanofi-aventis in Oro Valley, said Thompson invested considerable time learning about the company, and the people who work for it. "It was just so personalized," Koch said.
"Artists and scientists are very alike," said Sanofi-aventis project manager John Cocco. "I think it helped."
Koch was particularly grateful for the help of Kate Marquez, director of the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance, who helped field and narrow the volume of artist applications.