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June 28, 2004


While studying archaeology in England, Jim Sanborn was asked to write a paper on Romanesque sculptures. To gain a better understanding of his subjects, Sanborn tried his hand at sculpting such a piece from stone. After that, there was no turning back.

Sanborn’s latest creation — “A,A” — will sit at the University of Houston’s M.D. Anderson Library. Installation of the sculpture, which cost $240,000, was completed last week.

“Jim Sanborn has a great deal of experience doing large public commissions all around the world,” said Nancy Hixon, assistant director of the Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, and coordinator of university collections. “Library officials thought his sculpture was quite appropriate in furthering the discussions among the university’s diverse student population.”

Sanborn is most famous for his “Kryptos” sculpture at the Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Composed of lodestone, polished red granite and quartz, “Kryptos” features thousands of letter characters containing encrypted messages. Only a handful of those messages have been cracked.

This latest piece is the product of a year’s worth of work, Sanborn said. Made mostly of copper and bronze, the sculpture is comprised of snippets of poems, novels and prose from languages from all over the world, including Arabic, Russian, Spanish and Chinese.

“I wanted to choose text that would peak the interest of the people who view it,” Sanborn said. “The issues that are discussed within the text have to do with relationships, and I feel many students can relate to that. I also hope students will interact with each other when translating some of the languages they are unfamiliar with.”

At night, a built-in projector will shine light through the sculpture, reflecting the text onto the library’s exterior walls. In the library’s third-floor reading room, bronze panels along the guardrails also will contain portions of poems and other literature. A 24-ft.-long bronze scroll detailing the history of papermaking will hang from the ceiling to the first floor.

“I think the piece will make quite a nice statement for the library and for the university,” Hixon said. “All of Sanborn’s projects are very intriguing.”

By Leticia Vasquez