“Labor of Love,” by Hannah Kirkpatrick, pretends to be a simple sign during the day. It rests on the eastern side of the Glass Wheel Studio building and whispers “labor of love” in perfect cursive. It’s red with white lettering, and simple. It’s very simple.
Once night falls, however, the sign reveals its secret. As the sun dips and the NEON district stirs from its afternoon nap, the sign’s neon particles bolt to life and shape themselves into the peaks and valleys of a human heartbeat. Marred by mild arrhythmia, this pink and imperfect pulse, which courses through the center of this deceptively simple sign, symbolizes the passion and soul at the core of any work of art. Its slight imperfections — its unexpected dips and curves — represent the often unhealthy impacts of the stressful labor that goes into said art. It’s the perfect emblem for a building that, as of today, houses hardworking artists within its walls. It’s also the perfect emblem for a district that is itself a collective piece of art.
“When you’re an artist, or anyone going through a creative process, there’s a lot of struggling and frustration involved, but you deal with it because you want to or you have to,” says Kirkpatrick, a self-taught neon artist who also studied at the top-ranked Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. “Everyone always thinks positively of the term ‘labor of love,’ but when you reveal a heartbeat inside it that isn’t steady … it shows that there’s an actual emotion behind the act, which takes effort. You’re pouring yourself into it.”
Kirkpatrick (right) points out that the sign is a homage to everyone in Norfolk — not just artists.
“The ‘Labor of Love’ sign is specific to this art building, but I also hope that everyone has something that they labor over, whether it’s an art piece, a relationship, a friendship, a career, or a community project,” she says. “I hope people driving home from work can see the sign and just have a little bit of a reminder of why they do what they do.”
According to Glass Wheel director Cheryl White, the actual process of mounting Kirkpatrick’s sign was a labor of love in itself. In addition to figuring out how to put up the sign and hook it up to electricity, White had to have engineers approve the sign’s structural soundness. This was a necessary step in ensuring that the sign would survive a tropical storm or hurricane, and that its heartbeat would always remain steady. It was also an unexpectedly poignant opportunity for non-artists to step in and become part of White’s creative vision.
“As an artist, you have to rely on a lot of people’s expertise if you want to take your work from a studio to a larger scale,” she says. “You have to be able to work with people that are maybe even outside of the art world. It is important to develop those relationships.”
She adds: “One of the guys who worked on it said that he can’t wait to see it because it’s his ‘labor of love,’ too.”
Kirkpatrick’s piece, which has gone through dozens of iterations since its conception in January 2015, is now part of a trio of inaugural artwork which adorn Glass Wheel. In addition to Kirkpatrick’s piece, there are Robin Rogers’s mirrored geodesic domes in the atrium, and, of course, the Hense mural covering the southern wall. Kirkpatrick’s studio window, nestled right by her sign, will allow her to look down Magazine Lane towards her other labor of love: a partially-hidden neon installation which she and her Governor’s School students created for the recent NEON Festival.
White says that the installation of “Labor of Love” was a perfect way to cap off the long process of getting her Glass Wheel Studio on its feet.
“The statement on Hannah’s sign can be applied to this whole structure,” she says. “After all the work we’ve put into renovating this place, I think it’s safe to say that the entire thing is a labor of love.”
After the leaps and strides that the NEON District has made in the past year, you might even think that she’s talking about this great city of ours.
The Glass Wheel grand opening will take place from 7 to 10 pm tonight at 128 W Olney Road. In addition to meeting artists from the 2015-16 Studio Artists Program, you will be able to view the Glass Wheel’s inaugural exhibition, PROVENANCE, and enjoy hors d’oeuvres by Omar’s Carriage House. There will be a cash bar, with proceeds going to the NEON District.