You could call artist Tom Loughlin’s new art sculpture on San Francisco’s Treasure Island a new art piece — but it’s a new art piece with a very old soul.
The 22-foot steel ring was constructed from salvaged steel from the old eastern span of the Bay Bridge, which was demolished several years ago and replaced with a sleek new bridge connecting Treasure Island and Oakland.
Loughlin was among artists who applied and were awarded an allotment of the salvaged steel through a program run by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and administered through the Oakland Art Museum. The main qualification was that it had to be for public art.
“It’s one of a kind,” Loughlin said watching an industrial crane lower the first half of the piece onto the island’s scenic Northwest shore. “I mean I’ve never worked with a material that is as unique as this steel is.”
Loughlin will host a public unveiling of the artwork this Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. on Treasure Island.
The ring is covered with the steel’s original rivets and the emblem of Bethlehem Steel, the Pennsylvania company that crafted the steel beams used for the bridge which opened to traffic in 1936.
Loughlin designed the piece four years ago when MTC announced it was awarding some of the steel to artists. The 22-ton piece was built by fabricators in Denver and trucked in last week.
In addition to numerous beams, Loughlin also received an original bridge light pole which he fastened to the top of the piece and illuminates at night — its beacon visible across the water on San Francisco’s waterfront.
The piece also has another subtle intervention by Loughlin; it’s equipped with a transducer that vibrates the steel like a tuning fork — mimicking the low rumble of a fog horn.
“The idea was to take the material and intervene just a little bit,” Loughlin said “so you recognize what it was but it was coming at you from an unfamiliar form.”
Loughlin is the first Bay Area artist to install a public art piece with the steel which was doled out in June of 2017. But around the state, artists from Truckee and Joshua Tree have already installed art works using the steel beams.
“There is that hint and that memory of the old Bay Bridge,” said MTC spokesperson Karin Betts, “but they’re all being made into new experiences.”
Like the east span of the Bay Bridge, Loughlin’s steel ring is a temporary fixture — scheduled to remain on the island for several years. The east span carried millions of travelers from 1936 to 2013 before it was finally dismantled.
“The people building this bridge might’ve thought it was going to last forever,” mused Loughlin. “We just never quite know what the future holds.”