Iridescent Nautilus Sculpture Activates Downtown Portland’s Pride Plaza With Rainbows

The 12-foot sculpture on loan from the Portland Winter Light Festival refracts kaleidoscopic beams onto the neighborhood.

Nautilus Deep Sea, photo by Andrew Jankowksi.

Who else but the Portland Winter Light Festival could pull off keeping up its holiday decorations past February?

Several of PWLF’s large-scale artworks stayed up around downtown Portland throughout the spring, such as Mechan 42, a robot sculpture by Tyler FuQua. Now, some will stay up through the summer, popping up in new places to help keep Portland’s downtown fresh.

Nautilus Deep Sea by Heather Dawn Sparks and her team at Sparks Designs—many of whom belong to the LGBTQ+ community—debuted at the Pride Plaza at Southwest 12th Avenue and Harvey Milk Street on May 29. Nautilus Deep Sea has been at the Salmon Springs Fountain off of Southwest Naito Parkway since February, but was moved to a street corner outside McMenamins’ Hal’s Cafe through funding from the Portland Environment Management Office and Portland Bureau of Transportation.

“The intention is to just bring the vibrancy of the light festival out into our neighborhoods,” Alisha Sullivan told the crowd gathered at the Pride Plaza. Sullivan is executive director of the Willamette Light Brigade, the nonprofit that runs PWLF and the Light the Bridge program, which has stirred controversy in the past for color-coded political messages.

Nautilus Deep Sea, made of stainless steel and aluminum, is a geometric shell skeleton plated with dichroic plexiglass panels. The gap where a nautilus would emerge from its shell is instead a plasma cut plate with ornate linework designs. Though the shape looks more like a cornucopia than a truly rounded shell, Nautilus Deep Sea is still impressive for its scale, and the sea of color it swims in under direct sunlight. The sculpture will also be illuminated at night.

Moving the sculpture from the Waterfront deeper into downtown highlights PWLF’s art rental program, which allows city officials and private parties to rent from the festival’s library of larger-than-life artwork, commissioned to liven up spirits during dark, rainy Portland winters. PWLF began renting its art out last year as a way to generate regular revenue.

“Each year, we’re trying to commission a larger piece that can help support the festival year-round, raise awareness and sort of act as temporary placemaking through art,” Sullivan tells WW. “We believe that’s really powerful.”

This is the second art activation PWLF personnel have launched this year post-festival. Roboto Octopodo, a team including FuQua and PWLF’s creative director and former technical director, opened Fathom, an expanded version of their immersive undersea exhibition, on May 17.

“We’ve been working to bring back the city, bring back reasons to come downtown and hang out,” PEMO deputy director Anne Hill told the gathered crowd. “Because this is a nice, blocked-off, pedestrian space with bikes, people can safely look at the statue, come and take pictures here.”

Sullivan teased that another sculpture will take Nautilus Deep Sea’s place in August, though it might not come directly from PWLF’s collection. She said the sculpture’s placement comes at just the right time for Sparks Designs.

“The group is really excited to be at Pride Plaza during Pride Month,” Sullivan says.

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