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In the heart of Sonoma Plaza, local artist Catherine Daley’s sculpture titled “Aurora III” glistens in the sun. It is inspired by aurora borealis — more colloquially known as the northern lights. The piece’s plastic glass rods conduct light, giving it a dramatic shimmering effect during the day and at night.

Daley, an art teacher at Sonoma Academy, hopes her work literally and figuratively tosses its light back out into the community as California slowly emerges from a year of pandemic panic and darkness.

“[Aurora III] is very mesmerizing,” says Daley, who is largely moved to create with light, water and music in mind. “I kind of look at it as a metaphor for what people might need right now: something that’s soothing, calming, relaxing — to put a little light in their life.”

Daley’s sculpture and seven others are part of an ongoing free public art exhibition in Sonoma Plaza called, “A Delicate Balance.” The exhibition will run through Oct. 19 and is hosted by Sonoma Valley Museum of Art in partnership with the City of Sonoma.

Catherine Daley’s sculpture “Aurora III” illuminates Sonoma Plaza at night during the “A Delicate Balance” exhibition. (Photo courtesy Catherine Daley)

“The sculptures explore the equilibrium between fragile and solid, nature and technology, humankind and science,” says SVMA executive director Linda Keaton. “So it’s sort of a reminder of the delicate balances of life and about how our world has changed over the past year as well.”

Unlike Daley, conceptual artist Peter Hassen ruminates on the darker elements of existence in his three-part sculpture series titled “Cycles.” Each piece in “Cycles” comprises three patterned disks intersecting to create a spherical shape. “Cycles 1” is subtitled “Religion,” “Cycles 2” is subtitled “Science” and “Cycle 3” is subtitled “Extinction.”

The Sonoma-based artist has shown his work in national galleries and public spaces for more than 20 years.

According to Hassen, “Religion” examines the relationship between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and the “promise they have to work together and the challenges they have in being divided apart.”

“Cycles 2: Science” traces the evolution of scientific progress across history while “Extinction” scrutinizes the human impact on nature and wildlife such as bees, birds and frogs through habitat destruction. Hassen said he talked with researchers at University of California at Davis and Stanford University to learn more about species that are endangered and impacted by climate change.

“I do a lot of research on the historical use of icons, symbols, geometry, history of science — because a lot happened before we were born,” Hassen says.

In May, Sonoma artist Peter Hassen helped install his sculpture, “Cycles 3: Extinction,” at Sonoma Plaza for “A Delicate Balance.” (Photo courtesy Ann Trinca/Sonoma Valley Museum of Art)

The exhibition also includes two 6-foot ceramic heads handcrafted by internationally recognized artist Jun Kaneko. The pieces have no title, but Susan Schonlau, administrative manager and public art coordinator for Jun Kaneko Studio, says Kaneko just calls them “heads.”

The sculptures are sitting on the grass in Sonoma Plaza facing the street as if to greet those coming into the city, Schonlau says.

Kaneko typically displays the heads in pairs. One head has facial features, while the other is the shape of a skull and neck without any facial features. This, Schonlau adds, is meant to invoke a sense of calm, introspection and balance between expressing thoughts and looking inward.

“It creates a conversation,” Schonlau says. “One head is expressing, and one is reflecting or receiving.”

Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan, and came to the United States in 1963 to study with American ceramic artists Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner and Jerry Rothman during the California Clay Movement, which helped define ceramics as a modern fine art.

His work is included in more than 70 museum collections, and it has appeared in both international and national exhibitions.

This Jun Kaneko head was carefully installed in Sonoma Plaza in May. (Photo courtesy Ann Trinca/Sonoma Valley Museum of Art)

Bruce Beasley, a Los Angeles-born Abstract Expressionist sculptor, works with bronze, aluminum, granite and wood. He has two pieces, titled “Refuge of the Moon I” and “Refuge of the Moon IV,” on display in Sonoma Plaza.

Beasley’s art is featured in collections at museums around the world including the New York Museum of Modern Art, Musee d’Art Moderne in Paris and the National Art Museum of China in Beijing.

He currently lives and works in Oakland. Like Kaneko, he studied sculpture at UC Berkeley under the instruction of Peter Voulkos. Beasley also helped establish the famous Garbanzo Works foundry in West Berkeley where he, Voulkos and other sculptors created noteworthy pieces in cast bronze and aluminum.

“A Delicate Balance” was installed May 4, but a formal opening reception for Sonoma Valley Museum of Art members will take place 6-8 p.m. July 22. The event, which starts on Sonoma Plaza and ends in the museum, is also the reception for two new exhibitions inside the museum, “Sacred Landscapes: The Art of Ynez Johnston” and “Question Bridge: Black Males.”

Until California lifted its COVID-19 restrictions on June 15, Keaton says the outdoor public art exhibition was fulfilling SVMA’s mission of “building community around art,” even during the pandemic.

“The most exciting part is watching people interacting with, taking pictures of and viewing the art right after we put it up and hearing people say that this is a sign we are slowly getting back to normal,” Keaton says.

* “A Delicate Balance” is on display at Sonoma Plaza, 453 First St. E., Sonoma, through Oct. 19. To learn more about the exhibition and artists, visit the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art website at https://svma.org/exhibition/a-delicate-balance/.

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