The Monolith is the last tangible remnant of one of Redding’s most significant historical chapters: the building of Shasta Dam. The ruins of the old Kutras Aggregate Plant have kindled memories and become the site of many a resident’s more recent personal reflections. The Monolith was originally the foundation for the facility that processed the gravel used for the concrete in Shasta Dam. Since its closure in 1945, the structure had deteriorated, yet maintained a certain beauty.
Turtle Bay selected an artist internationally known for the “poetic utility” and ecological sensitivity of his public art installations. Lewis “Buster” Simpson of Seattle led the process of transforming the Monolith into a place that gives clear voice to its own history. Simpson’s Monolith transformation was completed in June 2005 and dedicated on November 12, 2005. Please contact Turtle Bay’s curator of art to learn more about Simpson and the Monolith project.
For more information about the Monolith visit: www.bustersimpson.net/monolith
About the Artist
Lewis “Buster” Simpson has been a practicing artist for more than 35 years, almost exclusively within the realm of public art. Based in Seattle, Simpson is one of the contemporary art world’s more unconventional thinkers. His work has included projects in Seattle, Denver, New York, Vancouver, and London.
He holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan.
You can see samples of Buster Simpson’s work and his extensive credentials at his web page: bustersimpson.net.
“These projects, by nature of public process, take a protracted timeline to accomplish. The real accomplishment for me is to maintain an edge while still providing a gift of publicly sited work. The complexity of any site is its asset, to build upon, to distill, to reveal its layers of meaning. Site conditions, social and political realities, history, existing phenomena are the armature. This work ranges from the obvious to the seamless, yet shares a common commitment to its context.”
A Unique Site
The Monolith is grounded in history. The visitor enters the site with an introduction to the Kutras family and the gravel operation that made the site significant. The 9.5-mile conveyor belt extended the operation far beyond the Turtle Bay site. A bronze scale model of the former mill building and adjacent stockpiles of aggregate sits atop a capstone mounted upon an original concrete pier. “At this oxbow of the Sacramento River, velocities slow, gravel gathers. Twelve-yard buckets amass to dam the relentless aggregation.” Porcelain-enamel reproductions of historic Fairchild aerial photographs capture the changes made to the landscape.
Pier MonumentThe pier provides a location for present and future donor plaques honoring those who have given their support.
Italian cypresses delineate the course of the historic conveyor belt. This line is the armature for planting cypresses approximately 20’ apart, methodically marching along the belt line as an overlay on the present landscape and parking lot. Ideally, the cypress line will cross the river and continue north. Even when viewed from the ground, this feature is a compelling graphic portraying the journey of the belt line.
Sacramento River stone covers the surface of much of the ground plane of the re-contoured site. Steel mesh of the type used by aggregate processors to grade gravel appear in several areas on the site.
High Water Mark of the Flood of 1940
The flood of 1940, which inundated the Monolith, was the last unchecked high water event prior to the completion of Shasta Dam. The fact that the dam prevents this degree of flooding provides the context for the High Water Mark. To make the connection more clear, the flood’s mark on the Monolith was re-created using a Sacramento River silt-pigmented paint wash.
One Cubic Yard
This is the formal Monolith entry room and introduces its history. The One Cubic Yard prominently serves as a visual reference to the quantity of material processed at this plant during the construction of Shasta Dam, as the text on its three sides illuminates. The cube is also a table with a polished surface of the aggregate recipe and geologic makeup. Shadow play from above is enhanced by salmon-shaped elements situated on the roof, alluding to the water flows of the river. On the walls are porcelain enameled panels. One is a map of the Sacramento River watershed; the other depicts a 16th-century engraving, which reveals how fundamentally unchanged rock crushing processes are.
Laborers’ Offering to the Water Safe
As a memorial to those who worked at the aggregate plant, Laborer’s Offering is a 30-foot-high sculpture comprised of hardhats, a bucket, and a safe salvaged from the site. The McDonald “T” hardhat (no longer manufactured) was the favored choice of the workers both at Shasta Dam and the aggregate plant. An original McDonald “T” was used to mold and cast 30 hardhats out of recycled aluminum. Water pours in a spiral descent into a gold-leaf-lined stainless steel bucket within the safe. This workers’ “bucket brigade” is a tribute to their effort in the creation of Shasta Dam and to the sustaining value that water plays in our lives.
The Doors of Aggregation
The Doors of Aggregation are based on the embellished panel doors of cathedrals, banks, and government buildings, including many buildings constructed during the WPA era, the same time the dam construction began. Each door represents an aspect of the operation. Historic photos taken during the operation were selected from the archives at Shasta Dam, cleaned and restored, and reproduced in porcelain-enamel. The custom steel doors include the woven wire grading mesh used in aggregate operations. The construction approach and materials palette for the doors, interior ramps, framed documents, and the bridge are historically consistent with the aggregate plant.
Twelve-yard dragline buckets gathered vast amounts of material out of the Sacramento River and surrounding areas at the Turtle Bay site. This material was conveyed to the plant to be sorted, crushed, and washed prior to its journey to the Shasta Dam construction site. A nine-yard bucket sits atop a pile of Sacramento River dredger material to mark that aspect of the mining operation. Cones of different grades of material symbolize the sorting and processing operation.
Rock Crusher Mister & Detention Basin
A large footing, battered on all four sides, once served as the foundation for the rock crusher. This machine reduced the large boulders into smaller, usable crushed rock. A small new footbridge traverses the north face of the foundation where a misting system nurtures moss and lichens as a rich green wall landscape alluding to Mossbrae Falls on the Sacramento River. Lichens and mosses can live on bare surfaces and extract nutrients from minerals through ion exchange. This results in both mechanical and chemical alterations of the minerals: a “rock crusher” on a microscopic scale.
Rock Crusher MisterThe Detention Basin receives storm runoff and acts as a cistern for present and future water features. The weir elevation allows for a two-way flow depending on the water levels in the pit. Normal flows are detained, but during high water, the flow heads north and around toward the Swallow Mud Bowl and continues out through the drop inlet and into a bioswale flowing toward the Turtle Bay wetlands.
Swallow Mud Bowl
All aspects of the Monolith transformation were designed to facilitate the continuing use of the structure by wildlife, especially bats and swallows. An analogy may be drawn between the “mud” (concrete) construction of Shasta Dam and that of the mud swallow nests, which now occupy the Monolith. Site work was halted when it would have disrupted nesting swallows, and the Mud Bowl was provided as an offering to these seasonal birds. Different colors of mud give the nests a layered “architecture,” which may be enhanced by adding more dramatically different colored mud—especially the rich red native silts—to the Swallow Mud Bowl.
By the time it flows into Redding, the Sacramento River has cut through the rocks of the Trinity Complex, Eastern Klamath Belt, and some overlying Cascade volcanics. Each of these bodies contributes a number of distinct rock types to the gravels in the Redding area. The Trinity Complex, for example, contributes the dark green serpentines and the coarse-grained, “salt and pepper”-colored hornblende gabbros found throughout the Sacramento River Canyon.
The Solar Shasta Dam, originally proposed in 2000, reinforces the sustainability mission of Turtle Bay. The dam-shaped solar collector would sit atop the Monolith like a gem on a plinth, providing a metaphorical and physical connection between the two structures.
The proposed Dichroic Point would be a cast glass allusion to the Native American manipulation of stone accomplished by the region’s first peoples. Enhanced with illumination, it would hang in one of the Monolith’s chambers and be overlaid with ethnographic recordings in the Wintu native tongue.
Sounds of the Monolith would also be installed in one of the chambers, a vessel of sounds simulating an aggregate plant in operation. Voices, industrial sounds, and water flow would accompany storage drum shapes designed to ricochet light around the room.