Fly Ball, Dust Ball, Debutante Ball

While America languishes in the void left by the World Series, Denver's new baseball stadium, Coors Field, rises resolutely, and along with it a disarming new public sculpture.

Today, artist Lonnie Hanzon is curled up in an Art Deco armchair, chilled from the autumn winds about to bring Denver's first snow. He is discussing his first public commission, a gateway sculpture entitled ``The Evolution of the Ball'' - the most whimsical of three pieces slated to adorn the new stadium.

Scheduled for a March unveiling, ``The Evolution of the Ball'' is unabashedly fun, a fitting public tribute to the fact that art can be at once silly, joyous, and meaningful.

Adorning a slanting arch leading into the stadium proper will be 108 glazed ceramic tiles depicting balls of every sort - eyeball, crystal ball, dust ball, debutante ball, fly ball with wings, grinning goofball.

Also gracing the gateway will be three three-dimensional mosaic balls, which give the piece motion (leading the eye around the piece) and a sense that this is the entrance to a world of limitless possibility.

Like repeating the same word over and over until it becomes hilarious, ``The Evolution of the Ball'' takes the ball concept to its extreme, creating a kind of comic wholeness - the ball as a metaphor for unity.

Just as the game brings together a rich stew of humanity for the shared experience of rousing good fun, ``The Evolution of the Ball'' unites balls of every sort to remind viewers to look beyond their differences to the sameness in their hearts.

``There is this assumption that art will not feed the same people that come to baseball games,'' Hanzon says. ``But here is a high-quality piece of artwork that is extremely accessible to the wide range of people that come to a ballgame - all those people and all those balls.

``What a wonderful opportunity for me to make an artistic statement about commonality.''

A veteran of Denver's design community, Hanzon nonetheless is new to the Mile High art scene. In addition to bridging art and sports (``The Evolution of the Ball'' is literally a ``bridge'' into Coors Field), Hanzon is working to find his own bridge between a design background and the world of fine art.

Seized with a burst of artistic fervor and a sense that after years of design he is ``ready,'' Hanzon has turned his attention to fine art. A year and a half ago, he began his ``Shape Studies,'' an ambitious mixed-media series of nine paneled boards exploring the circle, staff, cross, triangle, square, spiral, and star. (Hanzon and his shape series received their gallery debut this September in San Francisco.) Serendipitously, one of the ``Circle Studies'' included a baseball. When he showed the work to an artist friend, she suggested he enter the baseball commission competition.

Hanzon took the ball and ran with it, reinterpreting his circles to create the ball studies that are the basis for the stadium piece.

``We are all living together on a tiny little ball,'' Hanzon says. ``And people that view the piece are going to find at least one ball that relates to some positive experience in their lives. It's about taking one thing and exhausting it to find the whole.''

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