Downtown Philadelphia has "Lifelines," Tucson sculptor Barbara Grygutis' piece with graceful vertical metal leaves emerging from a sunken plaza above a downtown commuter station.
Washington, D.C., has "Journeys," a 500-foot-long series of 30-foot-tall metal oak leaves at the entrance to the New York Avenue Metro station.
West Palm Beach has "Waves," a series of 28-foot-high metal arches, internally lit and spanning a public area outside the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Closer to home, Phoenix has nine of her "Luminarias," 20-foot-tall stylized plants constructed of pre-rusted metal, five on medians on Central Avenue, the other four at the entrances to the Central Arizona Project Canal Bridge.
And Chandler has "Desert Passage/Canopy Dreams," an artful pedestrian bridge connecting buildings at Chandler-Gilbert Community College's Pecos Campus, dedicated in 2010.
But Tucson is without one of the very large, stunning pieces from the latest period in Grygutis' career, works that have put her among the more sought-after creators of public art in the country.
That's about to change.
Grygutis has designed the public-art component of the grade-separated intersection the city of Tucson is set to build at East 22nd Street and South Kino Parkway.
An artist's rendering of her eight stunning, 40-foot-high perforated aluminum, internally lit, pleated and tapered columns makes the bridge look like it's pinned to the desert by stylized saguaro darts that fell from the sky.
It will be a huge visual change for visitors heading into the city or up to the foothills resorts from Tucson International Airport and for those heading south on Kino to the University of Arizona's biosciences park being developed on the southwest corner of Kino and East 36th Street.
The bold strokes will be all the more shocking when viewed amidst the grim reality of East 22nd's adjacent stretch of dirt lots, abandoned businesses and auto paint shops and the smoking train yards.
Until then, most Tucsonans - even those who recognize her name and connect it with the works she has done here - won't know Grygutis for what she is known for in much of the rest of the country.
The 64-year-old sculptor grew up in Israel and came to Tucson to attend the University of Arizona in 1964 and says she "loved it, immediately." Earning a master of fine arts degree from the UA in 1971, Grygutis stayed. She's married to a UA literature professor. They have two children and two grandchildren.
Since graduating, she has always worked out of a downtown studio - since 1988 in a historic building on South Sixth Avenue that she co-owns with photographer Tim Fuller. She has several public pieces around Tucson. But most are from earlier in her career, and many involve the use of tile, like the turquoise-tiled arch in Santa Cruz River Park.
Another familiar work is "Front Row Center," a series of bronze chairs and seating platforms outside the Marroney Theatre in the UA Fine Arts Complex.
But, increasingly, she has been successful in winning commissions for very large metal sculptures-sometimes incorporating glass and internal lighting - found in cities throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Selection committees seem particularly fond of the lighted pieces.
"I'm still really intrigued with the lighting," Grygutis says of one of her most popular signatures. But she said, "I'm not doing the changing colors," as she did with an abstract vertical piece that goes from green to blue to purple at a light-rail station in Bellevue, Wash.
How do we explain the time it has taken for this new work to appear in Tucson?
"They can't pick Barbara every time," even in her hometown, says Jennifer McGregor, director of the Wave Hill visual arts complex in the Bronx and the first director of New York City's Percent for Art Program in the 1980s. "It should be a source of pride that she's so successful around the country," says McGregor, who said she is very familiar with Grygutis' work.
In great part, Grygutis was able to go large, both geographically and in the size and scope of her art, due to the most effective funding mechanism for public art since the Work Projects Administration of the 1930s.
Much of her work, both here and nationally, is related to the so-called percent-for-art system that requires a certain percentage - often just 1 percent - of expenditures for public works and other government projects be spent on art.
Much of the percent-for-art work, not just Grygutis', is sculpture, but abstract, not the classic "famous brave dead guys on horses" city-park statuary of centuries past. She's been awarded dozens of commissions nationwide for works, some ranging into six figures and beyond, in the last two decades - "Portal," at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Los Indios, Texas; "Railgate," a sculptural treatment of a gateway at a New Jersey transit center; "Rookie Card," a representational piece at the entrance to a ballpark in Jacksonville, Fla.; and most recently "Drop," a large, lighted metal sculpture in the shape of a drop of water in Antioch, Calif.
Grygutis has also been successful competing for public-art commissions for projects involving landscaping, sometimes incorporating sculpture as well. Two recent such works, in Las Vegas and Cary, N.C., won awards.
With the change in the scale and scope of commissions, Grygutis says, came a change in the way she works.
Creating meaningful, artful public sculptures and landscapes that patrons hope will be seen by millions and last for decades, even centuries, is not a delicate thing. There isn't much sitting outside the cottage before an easel in the perfect afternoon light, waiting for the muse to drop by.
Any more, Grygutis says, there isn't even much model building at her studio. Almost everything is done on a computer. She has a CAD (computer-assisted design) specialist who turns her ideas and designs into computerized renderings needed for presentations. And she uses several firms around the country, including some in Tucson, to build and install the pieces.
Everything about working the way she does now is big - the money, the labor and the final product.
Some are massive pieces, 30 or 40 feet tall, weighing tons, requiring big diesel-belching machines to put them in place or carve the artistic landscapes.
It's good, she says, for people to understand there is hard work and employment for others in public art, not just the artist. When she and most other public artists win a job, they don't just take the money "and go to the Bahamas. It's distributed. I keep two or three people working in my studio," she says. And besides her, the staff and the contract firms that build it, there are the workers who install and maintain it.
"Public art puts a lot of money in the economy that people don't think about."
Grygutis says she enjoys that, and the idea that people may enjoy her art.
"The idea that you walk past a work of art every morning on the way to work is important. We have a cultural heritage," she says of public pieces.
"Ultimately, I want to create works of art that are true to me and speak to the public in some way."
And, while everyone's a critic, especially in the case of public art, Grygutis says that's just the flip side of what is the best thing about it.
"If you put something in an art gallery, very few people have the opportunity to see it. If you put it in public view, it's sort of an open-air art gallery for the public."
Her goal is to do at least one public piece overseas. "There's a lot of work being put up in Europe, all around the world. We just don't hear about it. It's a global movement."
She drives home her comments with an observation on the Sydney Opera House. Though now considered a great work, she said it wasn't always so, that there were many critics.
Now, worldwide, it's the first image most people have when they hear "Australia."
"That," Grygutis says, "is an example of somebody taking a chance that something really different from the norm could make a difference."
Grygutis work close to home
• Alene Dunlop Smith Garden at 312 N. Granada Ave. Grygutis raised $40,000 for the calming spot in the early 1980s.
• "Front Row Center," in front of the Marroney Theatre, on the University of Arizona campus. The 10 bronze chairs are part of a project that includes pathways, lighting, landscaping and small seating and gathering areas.
• "Riverband," along River Road from North First to North Campbell avenues, has been described by Grygutis as a "continuous band of desert forms which float on top of the sound walls."
• Art Park along the west bank of the Santa Cruz River.
• "El Presidio Garden," a three-dimensional ceramic mosaic at the Tucson Museum of Art's Moore Courtyard, 140 N. Main Ave.
Tucsonan who specializes in large, intricate, often lighted works of public art
Contact reporter Dan Sorenson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4185.