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Friday, October 19, 2018

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Artist Aida Valencia created a glass and stone mosaic of the sycamore tree that grew in Aztec Center. Artist Aida Valencia created a glass and stone mosaic of the sycamore tree that grew in Aztec Center.
 


Back to Its Roots

The sycamore tree that grew in Aztec Center finds a new home at the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.
By Ryan Schuler
 

“The tree was an important feature of the Aztec Center and part of 40 years of student activity.”

It’s easy to see the influence of the old Aztec Center on the new Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union in the sweep of its arches and the names of the venues inside. Yet, one significant feature of Aztec Center that was missing in the new building has now been added, if only symbolically.

On Aug. 31 in the Associated Students Council Chambers, the council dedicated a glass and stone mosaic depicting the sycamore tree that sat in Aztec Center for more than 40 years.

“The tree was an important feature of the Aztec Center and part of 40 years of student activity,” said Glen Brandenburg, A.S. director of facilities and sustainability. “The building was almost designed around the courtyard and the tree. That’s why they picked an alternative idea to save that history.”

In 1968, a 35-foot California sycamore tree, donated by the Alvarado Medical Center, was placed by crane into the lower level courtyard of Aztec Center, the first student union in the California State University system. There, in the heart of Aztec Center, it provided shade, comfort and a meeting space for students, faculty and staff.

Yet, as plans for the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union were nearing their final stages in the late 2000s, it was determined the tree was not healthy enough to be replanted in the new student union.

Hoping to commemorate the tree’s long life, A.S. decided the wood from the tree would be used to create a piece of art for the A.S. Council Chambers of the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union.

“Something this university really prides itself on is leaving your legacy,” said Vanessa Girard, operations chair for the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union Board. “Taking something from the old Aztec Center and having it come to fruition in this beautiful, new building carries on a tradition.”

In 2014, A.S. commissioned artist Aida Valencia to create an artistic representation of the tree.

Using wood from the original tree as the backdrop, Valencia recreated the tree as a glass and stone mosaic, a fitting way to honor both the tree and Aztec culture, which used mosaic as a preferred artistic material.

Valencia created individual leaves made of blown glass and crafted a tree of stones and fossilized wood. The leaves of the tree represent the colors of the four seasons.

"When I saw the final piece, I was even more amazed than I was throughout the process,” said Brandenburg, who was involved since the beginning stages of planning. “When you look at the leaves, you appreciate the amount of work. There are thousands of pieces of glass that had to be put together by hand.”

Thanks to generations of Aztecs working together, the beauty and history of the Aztec Center’s sycamore tree will forever have a home in the new student union.

“I was in awe,” Girard said of having seen the piece for the first time. “It is honestly one of the most beautiful pieces of artwork I’ve seen. I think you can just see that history when you look at it.”