Charlotte Day was born in 2001, the year of 9-11. Perhaps that was one reason the senior at Edmonds Heights K-12 School was so inspired by the Pentagon Memorial when she visited Washington, D.C. with her mom, Amy Day.
The complex layout of benches, dates and names confused them at first, then the weighty meaning became clear.
“When we finally figured it out, our minds were blown,” Charlotte Day said, noting that each bench shows the year of birth of a person who died at the Pentagon and includes their names. “Although the memorial represents profound loss and tragedy we all feel deeply, it was also the first data sculpture I had really appreciated,” Day recalled. “Ever since then, I have loved the idea of sharing information through art — data art — and specifically, sculpture.”
The Woodway resident got her chance when she received 172 Microsoft patent plaques from family friend Mary Horvitz, who wanted Charlotte to create a work of art for husband Eric Horvitz’s birthday in August 2018. The plaques honor the many patents he and his Microsoft team have earned over the years.
Day’s final piece, Patent No. 1, was recently unveiled at the sculpture’s new home in the Microsoft Research Headquarters lobby in Redmond – a 3-foot long, 60-pound metallic fish swimming above a wood base. The scales of the fish are made from the plaques’ metal inscriptions, arranged from the earliest to the most recent patents. And the base is a repurposing of the wood mounts, reflecting Day’s passion for recycling.
Taking the project from a pile of plaques to an elegant, shimmering sculpture in just a few months was no easy task. For one thing, Day had never done a sculpture before.
“When I was in the middle of it I thought, ‘I’ve made a mistake, I’m doomed,’” Day laughed. “I thought I was going to fail and not have anything for Eric’s birthday.”
She discovered that the artistic process was much the same as her painting or drawing: “You start with a general idea, and build up detail. When I looked at the plaques, the layered metal reminded me of the scales of fish. Recycling and reusing are important to me, so the idea of turning the material into a sculpture was perfect.”
It began when she, friends and family sorted the plaques by date. Then Day had to figure out a way to separate the metal from the wood. “We experimented with techniques but ended up with a heat gun that melted glue on the back so we could peel the metal off,” she explained.
With the help of others, including her father, Day learned how to bend the metal to resemble scales, how to use saws and other tools to cut the shapes.
“There were obstacles,” she said. “A big chunk of the time I felt way over my head.”
After three months of hard work, Patent No. 1 was ready for its debut at the birthday party.
“That was really nerve-wracking,” she remembered, but it was a success. Then, in December, came the Microsoft reception. “People from the patent office were there and they thought it was pretty cool the way the plaques were used.”
In remarks at the party, she emphasized the project was a “we” effort” not an “I” accomplishment. “It couldn’t have happened without the knowledge and help of others,” Day said.
She’s learned many lessons that will inform her future endeavors, which includes a gap year in Japan after Day graduates. The primary lesson has been learning to hang in there. “We were constantly rebending, regluing and rethinking,” she said. “There were moments when it felt like it was too much and I wanted to give up. But the people around me kept me going through these times.
“When the big reveal finally came around, I knew that all the struggle was worth it and the frustration and difficulties made the end result feel so much better,” Day said. “When faced with difficulty, perseverance is key. And when you finally make it to the end, everything will be worth it.”
— By Connie McDougall