What's the Story Behind the Glenbow Museum's Aurora Borealis?

Posted by Justin Havre on Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 at 10:25am.

Inside the Glenbow Museum you will encounter the centerpiece called Aurora Borealis. This beautiful structure ascends from the lobby to the ceiling fill reaching a total height of four floors. While most may think this piece of art is just beautiful to look at, it has an incredible story behind it.

How it started

The designer of the artwork was James Archibald Houston, an artist from Canada. It was commissioned by Eric Harvie, the Glenbow Museum’s founder, who has brought this memorable structure to the Calgary residents who grew up seeing the piece and are now bringing their children to see it.

Houston first came to Glenbow Musuem for a visit in the 70s. At that time the museum was under construction and he noticed the stairwell column was currently open to the sky. This inspired him to create the piece based on an inspiration from the northern lights.

He had once worked in the Eastern Arctic with the Inuit where they would experience the northern lights, which inspired the patterns in his work. The staircase would wrap around this piece that contains 700 acrylic prisms where viewers can enjoy a light show. Houston worked with lighting techs and music pioneer Isao Tomita to add multimedia elements to the piece.


At one point the sculpture started flickering on one of the floors, so there has been some hiccups along the way. There was a power outage recently that caused the lighting board memory to fail, so Ray Jense, the Glenbow Museum’s production and design manager, took this chance to update the technology. It’s a duplicate of what the original artist designed it to do. Jense is amazed how the sculpture contains no seams as if it was placed in the building through the roof.

Many people call the museum checking on the status of Aurora Borealis, but the sculpture’s light show is back up and running.

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