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Another Claremont adventure: tripping on the light fantastic

When Cameron Munter grew up in Claremont, it was special. Indeed, it was magical. Claremont was “a sun-dappled place where peace and all was possible.”

This is what Mr. Munter remembers, as he shared in his commencement address at Pomona College 2 months ago. The career diplomat, who recently served as US Ambassador to Pakistan, a faraway place that cries out for the possibility of peace, waxed fondly about growing up in Claremont, saying that it prepared him well for a life of trying to make the world a better, more secure place.

He spoke of spending hours playing in the street and then roaming around the college campuses. He remembered Claremont as a safe place to take off on a bicycle to explore and find what happens and what is possible.

I also spent hours exploring the college campuses when I was growing up in Claremont, although I wasn’t on a bicycle. This was after I went around an increasing number of blocks in my neighborhood in my first motorized wheelchair. After I ventured across Indian Hill Boulevard, the world of the colleges opened up to me, and all that stopped me, really, was how much juice was in my battery (more limited then).

I would spend afternoons on the Scripps College campus, venturing down every path that didn’t have steps and into every courtyard. I imagined—and still do—that in a few hundred years, the campus, with its jewel of a garden setting and its Mediterranean, Spanish and Moorish architecture, would be a 3-star attraction in a guidebook, like a cathedral in a small, out-of-the-way town in Italy.

Or maybe not so small and out-of-the-way. It could well be that all or most of the Claremont campuses will be a tourist destination of note for future generations. I also imagined this as I enjoyed tooling around Pomona College and the other colleges, getting up close to the monumental buildings.

I don’t explore the campuses as much as I used to (I am more engaged with what goes on in the buildings), but I have written about the stunning, world-class Prometheus mural by Orozco in Frary Dining Hall—quite a remarkable and lovely building itself—at Pomona College. Last summer, I wrote about getting reacquainted with the renovated Greek Theater, as well as the Wash and the Farm, also at Pomona.

Last summer, I made another discovery, again at Pomona College. Actually, I have heard about it for several years, but it was a year ago when I went with a group of friends and found out exactly where it is. I have since taken a couple friends. It is truly something magical.

“Dividing the Light” literally does just that. It is a permanent light installation—a light show always playing—in the Draper Courtyard of the Lincoln Building at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Columbia Avenue, between Bridges Auditorium and Honnold Library. The artist, James Turrell, who attended Pomona College and is known for such work, calls it a Skyspace, and with it he uses light to gently, playfully ask us to think about how we see things.

The Los Angeles Times called the piece, which debuted in 2007, “one of the best works of public art in recent memory.” It is that and much more. It is a trip.

The installation consists of an atrium perched above a simple square reflecting pool, framing the sky. At timed intervals, the atrium is bathed in changing colored lights that also, in deep contrasts, dramatically change the color of the sky above.

This effect is heightened at sunset, when the sky itself changes color as color leaves the sky. As the atrium is filled with blue, red and yellow, the sky goes from rose to green to teal to jet black and back again. It is a brilliant, breathtaking sight—or sight trick—magic, as I said, and mind-blowing.

For those who like getting up early—perhaps appealing on these hot days—I suspect the experience is at least as spectacular at sunrise, when color blooms and fills the sky.

The college campuses are certainly more exciting when the students are around, with all that goes on during the school year, but there is much to explore when things are quiet in the summer. And, whether at dawn or in the cool of the evening, the Turrell Skyscape at Pomona College is a wonderful discovery, a refreshing, eye-opening treat.

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