Sundial Gnomon Design Contest

Calling all Design Students - Gnomon Design Contest

Gnomon Greek pronunciation and definition

Congratulations to Lucas Shiflett of Wenatchee Valley College and Kurt Kagels of South Puget Sound Community College for both winning $1000 in the gnomon design contest. Their designs will be presented to the State Capitol Campus Design Advisory Committee at the committee's May meeting. It will be up to the committee to decide if the designs are used.

Special thanks to our guest judges: UW Astronomy Professor Woody Sullivan and State Librarian Cindy Aden.

A current picture of the sundial.

Design Contest Goals and Criteria

The state of Washington is seeking an original design for a permanent sundial gnomon made of metal that is attractive and accurate in telling time. Practical concerns such as strength, resistance to vandalism, ease of maintenance, cost, and method of attachment will also be important aspects of a winning design.

A winning design will meet the following criteria:

  • respond to the capitol campus environment
  • respond to the artistry, content, and style of the sundial
  • plan for fabrication in metal
  • resist vandalism, movement, or removal
  • maintainable
  • reasonable to fabricate in terms of materials cost and effort
  • complies with technical specifications for accuracy

Official contest rules

Specifications for ensuring sundial accuracy

Photo gallery

A historical photo of the original sundial and gnomon
A historical photo of the original sundial and gnomon with the Capitol in the background
A historical photo of the original sundial and gnomon

The Territorial Sundial was commissioned with construction of the State Library Building on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, in 1958. The face is made of 19 gauge copper sheet metal, on which seven important events in Washington Territorial history are illustrated in hand-hammered bas-relief. The seven historical scenes are encircled by roman numerals and signs of the Zodiac, and accompanied by a quote from Marcus Aurelius: "Time is sort of a river of passing events, and strong is its current."

State Librarian Maryan Reynolds worked closely with John Elliott, the artist who created the Sundial. In a letter to him dated March 18, 1958 she provided a list of symbols "suitable for sundials" and a compilation of "historical highlights" in state history to draw from in illustrating over one hundred years of Washington history.

A publication produced for the opening of the State Library Building in January 23, 1959 described the Territorial Sundial as follows (excerpt):

Centered in the space between the two identical buildings—Highways and Social Security-Public Lands—and directly in front of the State Library, stands the hand-hammered bas relief plane-type sundial which is six feet across. It rests upon a 7'x7'x6" slab of Wilkeson sandstone…The facade is divided into seven panels depicting Vancouver's discoveries in 1792; establishment of Fort Okanogan in 1811 and erection of Fort Vancouver in 1825; the Cowlitz Convention in 1851; crossing Naches Pass, 1852; the first water-powered sawmill, 1828; first railroad to Puget Sound, 1883; and the Medicine Creek Treaty, 1854. Roman numerals and Zodiac symbols encircle the historical scenes. A quotation from Marcus Aurelius was chosen for the motto: "Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current."

The sundial is 6 feet in diameter and sits in a circular plaza that connects the Capitol Building, the House and Senate office buildings, and the State Library Building. The Sundial's original gnomon, or shadow-casting extension, was made of ¼" square copper rod that angled upward to the north. The base of the gnomon was triangular and held a letter "N" for north, also made of copper rod.

The original gnomon was frequently bent and abused. It became loose at the base, splitting the copper face of the sundial, allowing water beneath the copper sheeting, and causing significant deterioration beneath. It was removed. In 2008 the subsurface beneath the sundial face was replaced. At that time a temporary gnomon made of stainless steel was installed and still exists today.

In 2015 the State Legislature directed that a student competition be created with a grant awarded to the best design for the installation of a functional, accurate, and aesthetic gnomon for the state's capitol campus sundial.