Crystal DNA

William Martin (1923 - 2012)
Close-up of a fragment of Crystal DNA.
ArtistWilliam Martin (1923 - 2012)
Nationality American
Medium Glass and steel
Dimensions 7.2m - 19.5m x 1.2m (5 total)
Acquisition Commission
Date 1969

William Martin (1923 – 2012) was commissioned to create works of art for each of the National Arts Centre’s five spiral staircases. The artwork’s title, Crystal DNA, is drawn from its double helix form. The sculptures perform a delicate dance, using light and architectural space to guide thousands of visitors to their seats on every level of the Centre. Each sculpture is unique to the stairwell it resides in and is made of connecting sections of steel, decorated with pieces of glass. The arms of the sculptures are placed to refract the light from the skylight and spotlights above, through the approximately 6,000 pieces of glass that seemingly cascade down into the lower floors of the Centre.

Artist and engineer, William Martin was born in Cleveland, Ohio. The sculptures for the NAC were crafted while Martin worked fulltime as an industrial designer and teacher in Boston. Martin believed art ought not belong only in art galleries and museums, nor the private collections of the few who could afford it. In 1956 he wrote, “Art must be an accepted part of everyone’s environment where it can teach and lend beauty and pleasure to everyday life.” Almost all of his major works have been permanently installed in public places.

Visitors often describe the glass as “cubes of ice” and view the sculpture as a photo opportunity. Look at these archival images of visitors over the years in front of Martin’s sculptures, notably, one of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau.