OV’s 50th Anniversary: A legacy of public art


Oro Valley has more than 200 pieces of public art.

Dick Eggerding can tell you something about every sculpture, painting, sun dial, or flourished retaining wall. The founder of Oro Valley’s public art initiative is intimate with the art so many people simply drive past. He knows it is distinctive.

“Art is the soul of the city,” said Eggerding, the son of an opera singer. “And lacking art is the soul of the city.” Art is “a definitive, dividing line between what is mundane, versus something that is excellent. It is a reflection of what a community really is.”

On the cusp of his 91st birthday celebration, Eggerding led a trip to his five favorite art installations.

The Tree of Knowledge

From a seat outside the Oro Valley Branch of the Pima County Library, Eggerding peered at Joe Tyler’s 17-foot-tall tree, towering from an inscribed bronze book.

“It’s an amazing piece,” Eggerding said. Every leaf – and there are hundreds – is placed individually. “Can you imagine getting up on a ladder and hand-soldering that stuff?” he wondered.

Tyler has done many public art sculptures. Even 22 years later, “that happens to be one of my favorites,” he said.

The community agrees. The much-photographed Tree of Knowledge is Oro Valley’s first large-scale artwork. It’s historic, too, erected to celebrate the library’s opening in 2002. “Public art reflects the history of the town, in some respect,” Eggerding said.

In 1994, the impactful report “A Community Cultural Assessment for the Town of Oro Valley” was published. The town held a meeting in Sun City to discuss that assessment.

“Two hundred people jammed the hall,” Eggerding said. But, when guests learned the Tree of Knowledge was the topic, “half the people got up and walked out. They thought ‘cultural assessment’ meant a tax they were going to have to pay, on top of everything else.”

First and Tangerine

Eggerding just loves the four joyful pieces within Placita de Oro, the retail center at Tangerine and First.

A girl swings about a stop sign. A child is twirled by her extended arms. A man sits on a bench, reading a newspaper. A seated young girl reads a book about Lassie to her dog.

Artists De L’Esprie and David Spellerberg cast the sculptures at a foundry in Westlake Village, Calif.

“How do we take care of it?” Eggerding asked. “’Just wash it,’” they said. He looked at the twirling girl, Whirly-Bird, and noticed “there’s some bird ‘do on it.” He's ready to wipe it off.

“Once you start something, you can’t stop," Eggerding said. “Once you stop, it deteriorates.”

Eggerding points out art along the drives. He dislikes some of what he sees yet respects that others may enjoy it.

Oro Valley Hospital

In 1997, the town established the 1 Percent for Public Art program, requiring developers to set aside 1 percent of a project’s total budget for public art.

Along came Northwest Medical Center Oro Valley, now Oro Valley Hospital, with a price tag near $45 million. CEO Paul Kappelman loved art, and asked Eggerding to curate the collection.

“This is an art museum,” he said. “When you’ve got $400,000 worth of art, you’ve got something.”

Art is everywhere at Oro Valley Hospital, from tables to benches to sculptures, and paintings at every turn.

“Look at these pieces!” Eggerding exclaimed in a back hallway. “Museums would drool over some of this.”

Water falls over curved copper near a waiting area, where patients and loved ones anxiously sit. “How peaceful is that,” Eggerding said. “That was the rationale for putting it there. You come here late at night, or early in the morning, that sound is what you hear.”

Oro Valley’s 1 percent art requirement “was very well-received by the public,” Eggerding remembers. Not so much by business and industry.

Then, he said, “some of the builders who fought it in the beginning were the biggest supporters. They said ‘hey, this is a public relations thing.’”

Freedom’s Steadfast Angel of Love

Christina-Taylor Green stands in bronze in James D. Kriegh Park, right above the immaculate Little League baseball field where she played the game. The sculpture, created by Lei Hennessy-Owen, is a symbol of peace and hope. It remembers a child senselessly lost in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting at Ina and Oracle.

Christina-Taylor was born Sept. 11, 2001, the day terrorists used commercial aircraft to attack New York City and Washington, D.C. A third hijacked plane was diverted by passengers into a field near Shanksville, Pa.

Christina-Taylor stands 9 feet, 11 inches tall. Her steel comes from the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At her feet are pieces of fire trucks buried when the Twin Towers collapsed. Rocks from the Flight 93 crash site serve as guardians.

Eggerding wants more people to see the angel.

“I’ve brought older people out here, and some of them cried,” Eggerding said. “Every 9/11, there ought to be a ceremony out here.”

Yet, he wonders – “How would people know this is here?” And, importantly, “do they embrace it?”

Eggerding is emphatic that all arts must be championed by government and community, that art must be part of every 10-year Oro Valley general plan, and that art needs care, nurturing ... and money.

“There isn’t enough attention,” he argues. “Up until now, there is no concerted effort to really promote, understand and appreciate public art.”

At 91, Dick Eggerding says “life is short.” Yet “art is long. It’s just that way.”

The Arizona Heroes Memorial

Eggerding is most attached to a piece of art, and a space, not yet finished at Naranja Park. Workers built the Arizona Heroes Memorial while he spoke. When it is finished, a 24-foot obelisk shall stand in its midst.

Eggerding’s personal history with war and sacrifice traces to his father, his extended family, and his own military service in post-war Korea. Then came Vietnam. And Sept. 11.

“That changed the whole paradigm,” he said. “I saw those men going into that tower, and thought to myself ‘My God, those guys aren’t going to come out of there’.”

When COVID struck, he saw “the heroic acts” of nurses and caregivers who risked their lives for others. They must be honored, he knew.

Over time, Eggerding envisioned it as a memorial art project. That distinction helped get it done; with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised, and untold hours of work and material donated, the memorial should be completed this summer.

It “has to be” a crowning act for Dick Eggerding. Wife Marge “should be crowned queen of something,” he added. “She’s spectacular.” Marge, a retired psychotherapist, “understands the human psyche,” Eggerding said.

Especially his.