At night, the tapered Ionic columns and limestone steps of the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center glow with the images of thousands of letters like a phosphorous alphabet soup. The source of this bedazzling light show are two large bronze cylinders that sit on the sidewalk at the foot of SBDAC’s stairs. They are a dual point light sculpture called Caloosahatchee Manuscripts, a gift to the City of Fort Myers made in 2001 by Florida Power & Light Co.
FPL commissioned the work to commemorate the conversion of its power plant on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River from oil to natural gas. “In 1998, Florida Power & Light decided to re-power its Fort Myers power plant,” Next Era Energy/FPL Media Relations and Senior Spokesman Neil Nissan recalls. “It was built in the 1950s, and we weren’t using oil any more. So we converted the plant to natural gas, which is much cleaner and served to reduce the oil barge traffic on the river. We wanted to commemorate the occasion and asked the community what we should do.”
A community advisory board was convened and among the suggestions they made was the donation of an artwork to be placed in front of the old federal courthouse which Jim Griffith and Florida Arts were busily renovating into a visual and performing arts cultural center. A national call to artists was issued and Maryland sculptor Jim Sanborn was ultimately selected.
By 2001, Sanborn had built a formidable reputation for heady light sculptures. In 1990, he had been commissioned to do a work for the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. He delivered a work called Kryptos. Contained within the polished red granite, quartz, copperplate and lodestone were four encrypted messages meant as a challenge to the Agency’s elite code-breakers. In the ensuing decade, the CIA’s cryptologists duly deciphered three of the four messages. But they couldn’t break the fourth code and that encryption remains unsolved to this day.
The light sculpture consists of two bronze projection cylinders 8 feet tall by 5 feet in diameter with a pinpoint light source in their center. Using a water jet cutter, Sanborn incised letters into the bronze which are transferred to the façade, steps and sidewalks surrounding the art center at night. As is is custom, the sculptor visited the site and did extensive research before choosing the text for each drum.
The eastern drum contains the text of a story told by Maskoki Indian leader Tchikilli to James Oglethorpe about the migration of Native Americans into the lower southeast, including Georgia (where Oglethorpe had founded his colony) and Florida. The Creek, Seminoles and Miccosukee trace their ancestry to Tchikilli and his people, and the Seminoles replaced the Calusa Indians, who lived in this area from 500-1700 A.D. (but became extinct about 200 years after the region was conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors, who arrived in Florida 500 years ago in 1513). When he visited the site for the first time, Sanborn noticed an historical plaque indicating that the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center rests on the site of a settlement of Calusa Indians that pre-dates the army fort which eventually gave birth to the city’s name. But “the Calusa Indians left no written record,” Sanborn explains, “so I used the Creek/Seminole legend instead.” Still, he wanted to tie the symbolism of the text to the site, and so called the drum Caloosahatchee Manuscripts, and this is the name by which most people know the work.
The western drum is no less historic. As the nearby dedication plaque reveals, “From 1927-1931, Thomas A. Edison studied and tested 13,000-17,000 species of plants for their suitability in the manufacture of a domestic source of rubber. The plants listed (in Latin) on this cylinder were collected in the Fort Myers area and throughout the State of Florida.” His last grand experiment, Edison undertook the project at the urging of friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, who were hopeful that Edison could find a local source of latex that would lessen their dependence on foreign sources of natural rubber. Latex is produced by many flowering plants, including dandelions (it’s the milky substance that bleeds from the stem when you pick one), gardenias, goldenrod, wisteria and yucca. By 1930, Edison had determined that goldenrod held the most potential for replacing rubber, but by then the 80-year-old Edison was in poor health and he died the following year before finally completing his rubber-replacement experiments.
As fascinating and historically relevant as that may be, what intrigued Sanborn even more was that Edison’s search for a local source of latex was reminiscent of his hunt for a plant material from which to make the filament for his light bulbs. Edison didn’t just invent the light bulb, of course. He combined what he knew about electricity with what he knew about gas lights and invented a whole system of electric lighting. This meant light bulbs, electrical generators, wires to get the electricity from the power station to the homes, fixtures (lamps, sockets, switches) for the light bulbs, and more. It was like a big jigsaw puzzle–and Edison made both the system and its individual pieces.
The entire effort hinged on finding the right material for the filament–that little wire inside the light bulb. He filled more than 40,000 pages with notes before he finally had a bulb that withstood a 40-hour test in his laboratory. In 1879, after testing more that 1600 materials for the right filament, including coconut fiber, fishing line, and even hairs from a friend’s beard, Edison and his workers finally figured out what to use for the filament–carbonized bamboo, which is one of the plants that Sanborn incised into the sculpture’s west drum. “Hence the LUX title, and the fact that Florida Power and Light helped fund the project,” Sanborn notes.
Today, the sculpture augments the ambiance of the art center during events, galas and charity balls, and serves as a romantic gathering spot for couples during Art Walk and Music Walk. So whether you call them Caloosahatchee Manuscripts or Lux, Jim Sanborn’s dual point light sculpture illustrates how public art can enhance a space and provide viewers with a unique way in which to learn about the city’s rich historical heritage.
- The physical address of the sculpture is 2301 First Street, Fort Myers, FL 33901
- Its Latitude is N 26° 37′ 13.4381″
- Its Longitude is W 81° 52′ 20.9912″
More About Kryptos
Sanborn has completed more than 125 sculptural installations to date. However, his most famous work remains Kryptos, a $250,000 commission he installed outside the main entrance to the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The sculpture’s name means hidden in Greek and Sanborn duly embedded four puzzles in the curved copper panels that make up the sculpture. He and a retired CIA cryptographer by the name of Ed Scheidt (a quiet professorial individual fond of hieroglyphic patterns) spent four months devising the type of cryptogram Sanborn would implement. “I could use methods to encrypt [the sculpture] that had an historic basis, that didn’t compromise any current methods [of cryptography used by the government]… I wanted to make something that could eventually be deciphered or extracted rather than something that will never be done, ever,” Scheidt comments. He figured that the first parts of the puzzle would take a few years to solve and the last part — maybe ten.
“The popular story of Kryptos has long held that CIA analyst David Stein was the first to crack three of the cryptographic sculpture’s four puzzles in 1998,” reports Kim Zetter in a July 10, 2013 post on Wired. “Stein decrypted the coded messages after spending some 400 hours’ worth of lunch hours working through the puzzles using only paper and pencil. Many people, on and off the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia, had tried to break the coded puzzle, but only Stein, a member of the agency’s Directorate of Intelligence, succeeded. Stein’s work on the code was kept secret, however. In 1999, he wrote a fascinating account of how he cracked three of the sculpture’s four coded messages, but it was only published in an internal CIA newsletter that remained classified until years later. The secrecy over Stein’s achievement allowed California computer scientist Jim Gillogly to steal the spotlight a year later in 1999, when he announced that he’d also cracked the same three messages, only he used a Pentium II to do it.”
But new documents released by the National Security Agency show how that the NSA beat Stein and Gillogly to the punch years earlier. According to records obtained by cracker Elonka Dunin, a game designer who maintains a comprehensive website on Kryptos, Adm. William O. Studeman, the CIA’s then-deputy director and a former NSA director, issued a formal challenge to his former colleagues at the NSA in 1992 to solve the CIA’s new courtyard puzzle. “The NSA’s director at the time, Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, announced the challenge during an internal ceremony at the NSA, and a small cadre of cryptanalysts from the agency’s Z Group — the internal name for the cryptanalysts division — ‘enthusiastically responded,’” Zetter relates. “The group was so intent on cracking the code that they formed an informal task force in November 1992, according to the recently released documents, which include a number of internal NSA memos describing how they cracked the ciphers. [T]hey quickly determined, using computer diagnostic tools, that the sculpture consisted of four parts — using at least three different ciphers — and a cryptographic table based on an encryption method developed in the 16th century by a Frenchman named Blaise de Vigenere that was key to helping them solve parts of the puzzle.”
In June 1993, after the three parts were cracked, an internal letter announcing the feat was sent to Admiral McConnell at the NSA, marked “For Official Use Only” and informing him that the deed was done. It was returned with a request to forward the note to Admiral Studeman at the CIA, no doubt with an air of glee and arrogance that the NSA had beat the CIA at cracking its own puzzle.
The first encryption was a poetic phrase containing an intentional misspelling that Sanborn composed: “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion” (“iqlusion” was an intentional misspelling of illusion).
The second puzzle refers to the CIA agent who helped Sanborn with the four puzzles, and the third is a passage from archeologist Howard Carter’s account of opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.
But the fourth riddle has defied solution.
On Kryptos’ 20th anniversary in November of 2010, Sanborn became so flummoxed by the CIA’s inability to crack the code that he decided to give everyone a clue. Sanborn told The New York Times that the part of the sculpture that reads “nypvtt” becomes Berlin once decoded. “The ‘Berlin’ clue makes a lot of sense, in historical context of the Berlin Wall coming down that year,” says Elonka Dunin (above). The Berlin Wall came tumbling down in November of 1989, almost exactly a year before the dedication of the Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters, and would have been on Sanborn’s mind. Dunin also points out that three slabs of the Berlin Wall sit at CIA headquarters, a gift from the German government. Although the slabs weren’t dedicated as a monument until 1992 – two years after Kryptos was installed – Dunin thinks it’s possible the CIA had already chosen a spot for them when Sanborn was designing Kryptos and told him about it.
In conjunction with the new clue release, Sanborn launched a website, Kryptos Clue, to provide an automated way for people to contact him with their proposed solutions to the puzzle. Over the years, numerous people who were convinced that they’d solved the final puzzle section have contacted him. One woman even showed up at his secluded home on an island. Most of the solutions people have offered have been wildly off-base. Sanborn says that with the launch of his new site, anyone who thinks they’ve solved the last section will have to submit what they believe are the first 10 characters of the final 97 before he will respond.
Of course, Sanborn firmly believes that artwork which surrenders its form or content too quickly is soon forgotten. “The Archeological record offers us a frustratingly fragmented view of the past. Though fragmentary, this archeoview is pregnant with secrets yet to be discovered and is thrilling in its potential. Secrecy is power even if it is just a little something kept from view, buried, so to speak, in the matrix of everyday life,” Sanborn divulges in this context. “For the past 30 years, my task as an artist has been to release this hidden information at a rate commensurate with its importance, and at the time of my choosing so as to prolong the experience of discovery.”
If anyone does manage to solve Kryptos‘ last cipher, that won’t end the hunt for the ultimate truth about the sculpture. “There may be more to the puzzle than what you see,” Scheidt says. “Just because you broke it doesn’t mean you have the answer.”
“In part of the code that’s been deciphered, I refer to an act that took place when I was at the agency and a location that’s on the ground of the agency,” Sanborn told Wired in 2005. He may be referring to something he buried on the CIA grounds, though he won’t say for sure. The decrypted text gives latitude and longitude coordinates (38 57 6.5 N, 77 8 44 W), which Sanborn has said refer to “locations of the agency.”
All of this leads one to ask: Is there a solution? Sanborn insists there is—but he would be just as happy if no one ever discovered it. “In some ways, I’d rather die knowing it wasn’t cracked,” he says. “Once an artwork loses its mystery, it’s lost a lot.”
A Word About Jim Sanborn
Born November 14, 1945 in Washington D. C., James Sanborn would spend his childhood in Alexandria, Virginia, attending JEB Stuart High School in Fairfax. His career began to take shape as he studied archaeology at Oxford University and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with a double major in art history and sociology from Randolph-Macon College in 1968. In 1971 he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was a teacher at Montgomery College in Rockville and at Glen Echo Park.
Sanborn is famous for his work with American stone in abstract art that demonstrates the hidden forces of nature and a sense of mystery.
“Prior to the Kryptos commission my work documented hidden or invisible natural forces, Earth’s magnetic field etc.,” Sanborn said in a 2012 e-interview he gave to Yin Ho of rhizome.org. “For the Kryptos piece and for the 20 years since, the hidden forces/content in text and language have taken over. For most of my life both of my parents worked at the Library of Congress, my father as the Director of Exhibitions and my mother as a photo researcher. This privileged access to the historic record was tremendously enabling. The texts I chose for my public projects were heavily researched at the L.C. and in these works, in particular the international, classical, and Native American texts were used to encourage collaboration among cultures to fully decipher. Like Kryptos, the other public works are designed to exude their information slowly.”
Sanborn has installed works all over the world, including All the Ships Sailed in Circles at the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts in Taiwan, The Cryllic Projector at the University of North Carolina, Coastline at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, Antipodes at Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D. C., Wealth of Nations at Cleveland State University, Binary Systems at the Central Computing Facility Internal Revenue Service in Martinsburg, West Virginia, an incised copper and granite piece titled Comma which lights up the plaza in front of the new library at the University of Houston (2004) and bronze projection cylinders with waterjet cut text named Radiance at the Department of Energy, Coast and Environment at Lousiana State University (LSU) (2008).
Sanborn also has pieces at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Numark Gallery and the federal courthouse in Beltsville, Maryland. Other works by Sanborn have been exhibited in the High Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Phillips Collection. Sanborn is currently developing a new body of museum and gallery works about the global trade in looted antiquities.
Even if the CIA is frustrated (if not more than a little embarrassed) by their long-standing inability to decipher the fourth encryption, they nevertheless join a list of more than 125 prestigious institutions who are proud to include Sanborn’s work among their collections, including:
- The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC
- The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
- National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
- Kaohsiung Museum Of Fine Arts, Republic of China.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, MD
- The Central Intelligence Agency, Langly, VA (GSA)
- The National Endowment For The Arts, Washington, DC
- Kawasaki International Peace Park, Kawasaki, Japan
- Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL
- Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona Beach, FL
- Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, NV
- Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, CA
- US Embassy, Dublin, Ireland
- Progressive Insurance, Cleveland, OH
- University Of Houston, Houston, TX
- University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA
- University of California SF, San Francisco, CA
A Word about the Maskoki Migration Legend
As previously mentioned, the eastern projection cylinder of Caloosahatchee Manuscripts reproduces text from the Maskoki Kasi’hta migration legend. The story itself was told by Tchikilli (whose name is also sometimes spelled Chikilli). He was the “emperor” of the Upper and Lower Creeks and attended a national convention of Indian leaders that was held in 1735 at Savannah in the presence of General James Oglethorpe, governor of the Carolinas and the founder of Georgia. According to a review of Albert Samuel Gatschet’s A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians (Vol. 1, Philadelphia) in The Academy (Vol. 27, Jan. 17, 1885), “It seems established that a contemporary English translation [of the Kash’hta migration legend], written in red and black letters on a buffalo hide, was handed over to the British authorities, sent to England, and in the same year translated into German.”
The German translation is embodied in von Rock’s Diarium von seiner Reise nach Georgien im Jahr (1735), and is apparently the source of the present Creek text because the buffalo skin, which was framed and hung in the Georgia Office in Westminster, went missing around 1762 and has never been seen again. Thus, all we have of the original Creek text is its re-translation into English from von Rock’s German version by Judge G.W. Stidham.
It is not known how Jim Sanborn came across this text during the research he conducted in conjunction with Caloosahatchee Manuscripts, or why he chose the Kasi’ hta migration legend excerpt that he did for the eastern projection cylinder. Some secrets are meant to be kept. But the translation reads as follows:
“After four years they left the Coosaws, and came to a river which they called Nowphawpe, now Callasi-Hutchee. There they tarried two years; and as they had no corn, they lived on roots and fishes, and made bows, pointing the arrows with beaver-teeth and flint-stones, and for knives they used split canes. They left this place and came to a creek called Wattoola-Hawka-Hutchee, Whooping Creek, so called from the whooping of cranes, a great many being there; they slept there one night. They next came to a river in which there was a waterfall; this they named the Owatunka River. The next day they reached another river, which they called the Aphoose Pheeskaw. The following day they crossed it and came to a high mountain, where people who, they believed, were the same who made the white path. They, therefore, made white arrows and shot them, to see if they were good people. But the people took their white arrows, painted them red, and shot them back. When they showed them to their chief, he said that it was not a good sign; if the arrows returned had been white, they could have gone there and brought food for their children, but as they were red, they must not go. Nevertheless, some of them went to see what sort of people they were; and found their houses deserted. They also found a trail that led to the river; and, as they could not see the trail on the opposite bank, they believed that the people had gone into the river, and would not again come forth. At that place is a mountain called Motorell, which makes a noise like beating on a drum.”
It does not appear that the reference in the text to the Callasi-Hutchee River is to Fort Myers’ Caloosahatchee River, but rather to the Chattahoochee River, which contains a waterfall that divides the slow-moving waters downstream from the clear, swift current above. It appears that the Maskoki followed the river to its headwaters in the mountains near present-day Columbus, Georgia. Large mounds and other earthworks on both sides of the river in this vicinity attest to the importance of the site in ancient days.
Sanborn could, and perhaps should, have referred to the east drum as Maskoki Manuscripts, but he opted to name it and the entire sculpture “Caloosahatchee” Manuscripts instead. But it’s actually a misnomer. Caloosahatchee refers to the Calusa Indians, who inhabited what is now Fort Myers from 500 to 1700 A.D. But they became extinct roughly 200 years after the arrival of Ponce de Leon and the Spanish Conquistadors in 1513. The light sculpture today sits on the site of a Calusa settlement, and Sanborn would have preferred to reference that connection in the eastern projection cylinder but the Calusa left no written record. But the Creeks or Seminoles did “and the Seminole tribe is important to Florida.” So the name “Caloosahatchee” Manuscripts is an amalgamation that pays homage to both the importance of the site to the Calusa Indians and the importance of the Seminoles to both Fort Myers and the State of Florida as a whole.
Related Articles and Links.
- Paradise TV spot on ‘Caloosahatchee Manuscripts’ shines light on public art (03-28-13)
- ‘Caloosahatchee Manuscripts’ decoded tomorrow night on FOX4’s Paradise TV (03-27-13)
- Paradise TV’s Wild Bill Wood to decode Davis Art Center’s light sculpture (03-12-13)
- ‘Lux’ maker Jim Sanborn is so bright he stumped the code breakers at the CIA (02-28-13)
- Last night was an occasion for Art Walkers to re-connect with beauty and art (05-07-11)
- ‘Caloosahatchee Manuscripts’ celebrates 10-year anniversary (04-06-11)
- Caloosahatchee Manuscripts bathes River District art center in alphabet soup (04-05-11)