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:: By Hana T. Yoo, ’07

:: Photography by Dan Dry

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Peer Review ::

Architectural details

Star-crossed staircase

Hanging from the skylight of Crerar Library’s three-story atrium is Crystara, a gleaming 30- by 12-foot aluminum and Waterford crystal sculpture that catches, refracts, and projects any light shining into its multifaceted depths. Suspended by six nearly invisible cables, the piece seems to float weightlessly in space. As the viewer’s position changes, so does the piece, becoming a sundial as its shadows move across the floor.

photo:  architectural details

When the University commissioned John David Mooney—a Chicago-based artist who has crafted sculptures and installations around the globe exploring his interests in astronomy, light, and the environment—to create a piece for the new John Crerar Library in 1984, they gave him free rein. “I went through multiple, multiple ideas,” he said, before deciding on Crystara’s design and materials. Naming the piece—a collaborative effort with the Committee on Social Thought—also proved difficult. When they settled on Crystallis one night and sent it to then-president Hanna Gray for approval, she left a note at the job site the next morning saying that Crystallis would not do at all: it was a diminutive from eighth-century Latin. Going “back to the drawing board,” they dreamed up Crystara—a hodgepodge of a word “not in Webster’s”—that evening.

In Crystara, Mooney sculpted a “stairway to the heavens,” symbolizing “a stepped progression of one layer of knowledge over another,” welcoming Crerar’s users before they hit the books. Before moving to the University, John Crerar’s collection was housed in the downtown Marshall Field’s Building, in a warehouse at Randolph and Michigan, and at the Illinois Institute of Technology.