Millennium Bookball

George W. Hart

The Northport Public Library commissioned me to create a unique Millennium Bookball sculpture for its newly expanded Laurel Avenue building. The work is a spherical assemblage of wooden "books," five feet in diameter, hanging in the two-story catalog area of the library. The books are made of various hard woods, with the titles and authors carved and gold leafed.  The sculpture was assembled at a community assembly event something like a barn-raising, but for art.

Geometrical Structure

The Millennium Bookball is constructed of sixty "books," carefully arranged in precise geometric relationships.  Some patterns to look for are:

There are ten books in each of six different woods.  The walnut books are the darkest; they form an "equator" which encircles the sculpture in a horizontal plane.  Looking straight up from below the sculpture, those ten books can be seen to outline a type of 5-pointed star.  The maple books are the lightest, they can be seen to outline a 5-pointed star of the same shape, but tilted.  The other four woods---cherry, sapele, bubinga, and purpleheart---also each form a 5-pointed star tilted from the horizontal.  Books of the same wood have their spines parallel.

There are 32 bronze "donuts" connecting the books.  The books which meet at any donut form a type of "propeller"  There are twenty 3-way propellers and twelve 5-way propellers.  Each book is part of two propellers: a 3-way propeller above the title and a 5-way one below the author.  The same book is perceived as going clockwise in one propeller but counterclockwise in its other propeller.

The books outline thirty rhombic windows into the sculpture's interior.  The mathematical name for this pattern of rhombi is the "rhombic triacontahedron."   The donuts are the corners of the rhombi.  Each donut is directly opposite another of the same type (3-way or 5-way).  If you align yourself so you can look straight through the holes of any two opposite donuts, you will be positioned to discover a number of other geometric patterns in the sculpture.

Community Art Project

This is a community project in three different ways:
  1. It reflects the community's reading tastes. Each of the sixty books is inscribed with the title and author of one of the best books of the century, as determined by the Northport community.
  2. It is funded in large part by contributions from individual community members, through a fundraiser arranged by the library.  The initial funding was through a New York State Council for the Arts individual artist's grant, administered through the Huntington Arts council.
  3. The actual assembly of the work was a community event. The sculpture was designed in such a way that a large number of people had to hold the components together in relative position and slide them towards each other simultaneously.
In addition, an unveiling, reception, and millennium party was held on December 12, 1999.  Here is a picture just as I started to unveil it.  Up until then, it was wrapped in black plastic, as if I collaborated with Christo.


This sculpture took over a year from concept to completion, and during that time, it evolved considerably.  My initial design was for a smaller piece, in which the books were tightly interlocked via slots.  If you study my original paper model, shown below, you will see that all sixty books have the same pattern of five slots.  I planned on forming each from a single board, in a six-wood color pattern.

I wrote a proposal to the New York State Council for the Arts describing the sculpture and community assembly idea, and was awarded an individual artist's grant.  With the state grant came encouragement to seek co-funding to build a larger project.  I took the idea to the Northport Public Library and the administration and board of directors enthusiastically supported it and arranged for a community fundraiser to support it.  This larger budget allowed more design options.  I ended up choosing a more open form, with cast bronze components and more intricate books.  I relied on computer modeling to examine a range of possibilities.  Below are two images of the final design.

The above image is centered on a five-fold donut, and the next looks at a three-fold donut.
To give a sense of its appearance with books, I made the following sketch, which was the all I saw of it until the day of assembly, when it finally became real.

If you have a VRML plug-in installed in your web browser (which allows it to display virtual reality 3D objects) you can also look at a 3D virtual reality model of the sculpture.


A sculpture of this intricacy can not be built by a single person.  This project is made possible in part with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Huntington Arts Council.  In addition, many individuals contributed greatly, both in the fund drive and in direct help to me.  In roughly chronological order: Sara Bluestone of the Huntington Arts Council gave me excellent guidance in writing the proposal.  MaryEllen Moll, community services librarian of the Northport Library, was my main liaison, who organized meetings, wrote press releases, did publicity, arranged parties, and many other behind-the-scenes things, e.g., arranging for the hook in the ceiling.  Stephanie Heineman (Northport Library director) and Eileen Minogue (assistant director) championed the project for me, presenting it to the board of directors, and provided other support.  Marty Rebholz provided good engineering advice on the structure.  Lee Holcomb let me use his computer-controlled router for carving the titles, and freely shared his expertise on gold leafing and finishing.  Jamie Swan provided all kinds of good advice, and machined the metal parts, drilling and tapping the holes in the donuts and milling the slots in the metal rods, all with great accuracy.  Tom Pappel resawed one-inch boards down to quarter-inch.  Victoria helped with the layers of varnish that lie below the gold leafing.  Cooper directly worked with me in applying the gold leaf.  Rob Comforto made a video of everything.  Marty Rebholz, Jamie Swan, Walt Zurawski, and Tony carried and hoisted its 150 pounds up to the ceiling.  And, of course, a great many people collaborated at the assembly event to put the sculpture together.  Thank you one and all.