Don Cowen's Chiseled Legacy

Dec. 4, 2014
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Recently on a trip to Washington, D.C., I found myself standing outside the Connecticut Avenue entrance of the National Zoo admiring a pair of 5,000-pound bronze lions. I just happened to remark on their magnificence to the lady standing next to me.

After a few shared moments of “lion awe,” our conversation moved on to more personal chitchat. Upon hearing I was once an employee of the College of Optical Sciences, my new friend, who resides in Switzerland, immediately remarked that she had once visited Tucson and the University of Arizona and vividly remembered the “beautiful” abstract sculpture in front of the “copper building.”

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Over the last few months, as I have been immersed in the history of OSC, I have been asked many times for information on the impressive collection of four large crystal-shaped pieces that graces the entrance to the center. This “Light Moment” pays tribute to the sculpture and to the artist, Don Cowen (1920-1987).

Don Cowen’s art career began in his native country of Australia, where he studied at the School of National Art Gallery of Victoria. (These studies continued, later, in London and Paris.) His paintings were showcased in numerous exhibitions, and in 1956 he was invited, along with other leading Australian artists, to participate in Macquarie Galleries’ prestigious “Show of Sixes” in Sydney.

In 1959, Don moved to Tucson and exhibited at several galleries in Tucson and the Phoenix area. He came to OSC in 1965 as a scientific illustrator and in 1968 created the unique glass-and-steel sculpture for the entryway of the Meinel Building. Don also painted the portrait of Aden Meinel that hangs on the seventh floor and the colorful mural displayed on the fifth floor. Until recently his mural “Man and the Universe” hung in the lobby of the Flandrau Planeterium — now visitors to the Tucson Convention Center can enjoy it. 

Provided here is a PDF scan of a June 15, 1979 OSCillations article detailing the creation of the widely recognized showpiece that greets visitors at our front door.