Mildred Howard is feeling a little blue.
She paced back and forth in front of Palo Alto City Hall, carefully eying the house she’d created from thousands of empty bottles.
"I wonder how blue would look just on each side here?" she asked an assistant. Soon several blue bottles were arranged among the stacks of clear bottles.
Howard stepped back to consider the effect.
"Why did I think the blue would work?" she said. "It didn’t work."
Though her project entitled “Clear Story” was nearly finished, Howard wasn’t quite ready to concede the details. On the last day of work, her team of artists scurried about placing bottles into the wooden frame, painting wood beams and going over the final steps.
The 10x14 foot house is the latest project for Howard, who has spent her career creating works of mixed media. For the Palo Alto project, 97,000 bottles were incorporated into the installation.
"In the South, bottles are put down to keep bad spirits away," said Howard. "So you see them lying around gardens."
Howard said she based the design of the bottle house on the work of architect Joseph Eichler, whose famous houses populate the Bay Area’s peninsula. Eichler homes were designed to incorporate natural surroundings – a feature intrinsic in a house made of glass. Eichler was also known to use simple, affordable materials to make his homes affordable to the masses. Howard said that philosophy is behind her own use of low-cost materials like the common bottle.
"Trying to use every day, affordable kinds of materials in a different kind of way," she said. "To bring the outside in, and the inside out."
The Palo Alto Art Center commissioned Howard to build the project, which is set to open September 10th. The center is currently closed while undergoing a $7.9 million dollar renovation. Art Center director Karen Kienzel said the center is trying to bring art to the public, while its doors are closed.
"You can walk outside, inside -- you can actually touch the work," said Kienzel looking up at the bottle house. "This is really about bringing art to the community."
Howard said the beauty of bottles as a medium, is that light casts dramatic shadows through imperfections in the glass. In addition to clear glass bottles, the project also uses thousands of tiny vials Howard called rejects. The cast-offs add a shimmering quality to the walls of the 10-foot tall house.
As Howard circled the building, her eyes darting over every detail, she suddenly seemed to find a sense of peace in the nearly finished worked.
"It’s about bringing something that everyday people who may not go to museums… can have beauty right there with them," she said.