A Step Forward for Art...and
Cedar Falls is among the most
beautiful of Ohio's waterfalls, with its unique and graceful keyhole shape shimmering
against a sculpted face of weathered sandstone. What could be a more daunting task than to
create a functional work of art that could complement such natural grace?
Hizume, artist, architect and mathematician, accomplished such a feat last fall. Drawing
from his love of nature and expertise in the relationships among numbers and dimensions,
Akio designed a staircase descending gently down the hillside leading from the parking lot
to Cedar Falls. Akio set out to create a serpentine walkway that feels as graceful as it
looks. His goal was to make the act of ascending or descending the nearly 100 steps
pleasant and relaxing; not the tiresome chore of climbing up or down the typical set of
uniform, periodic stairs. The lengths of individual steps are varied, so that walkers
alternate the leading foot, establishing a comfortable pace and rhythm. Though it seems
like second nature, this walking rhythm was planned carefully and deliberately. It
reflects mathematical principles of the Fibonacci sequence and the one-dimensional Penrose
Akio entitled his creation Democracy Steps for Cedar Falls 1997. The steps are
democratic in the sense that they are designed for the ease of all walkers, including
children. They also democratize art and culture by bringing a sophisticated work to a
public place, where it can be enjoyed by a wide audience.
Akio built another set of democracy steps on a mountainside in his native Japan in
1995. Betty Collings of the Artists Organization of Columbus saw examples of Akio's work
in Japan and was struck by the way his creation blended with the natural landscape.
Inspired, she contacted Hocking Hills State Park Manager Steve Bennett and suggested a
similar stairway project at Hocking Hills. The existing sixty-year-old stairs at Cedar
Falls were in need of repair, and the proposed project was a natural fit. Hocking Hills
State Park and the Artists Organization of Columbus teamed up with the Hocking County
Tourism Association and Ohio University-Lancaster's Wilkes Gallery to bring Akio to Ohio.
Funding was provided through a grant from the Ohio Arts Council, along with other grants
and generous donations.
Labor for construction of the steps was provided primarily by the Ohio Department of
Natural Resources Division of Civilian Conservation Zaleski camp crew under the direction
of crew leader Jim Baty. Scott Kessler, an employee of Hocking Hills State Park, served as
the project supervisor. The steps are built of recycled plastic lumber, a composite of
sawdust and recycled plastic, donated by North Santiam Lumber Company.
Though his brief stay at Hocking Hills this summer was his first visit to Ohio, Akio
felt at ease in the beautiful surroundings that reminded him of his home in Japan. Akio's
gentle ways and his appreciation for the beauty of nature's patterns are reflected in his
masterpiece. Generations of visitors who take the democracy steps to Cedar Falls will tune
in to the natural rhythm that combines the precise disciplines of mathematics and
architecture with the deep sensitivity and humanity of the arts.