U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Art in Architecture: Grass is Greener | Tad Savinar

Art in Architecture: Grass is Greener | Tad Savinar

In the summer of 1989, GSA commissioned artist Tad Savinar to create Grass is Greener for the U.S. Land Port of Entry in Sumas, Washington. The artwork, completed in 1990, is an architectural installation of etched glass panels located inside the vestibule of the port’s pedestrian entrance. These panels are viewed primarily by people walking through the border station, between Abbotsford, British Columbia, and the United States. The overall dimensions of the artwork, which comprises nine glass panels, are 88 x 120 inches. 

Savinar’s artwork includes frosted etched imagery familiar to this region: wildflowers, tulips, huckleberries, and a flock of birds. He was inspired by a familiar scene from years past at the border station: the return of a flock of birds (Vaux Swift) migrating from Central America to the Pacific Northwest each April. The notion of thousands of birds migrating to a border station resonated with Savinar as being a “wonderful, intellectual, and romantic issue.” These birds would roost in the nearby mountains but also could be seen perched on the chimney of the former U.S. Customs House. Large numbers of swifts had entered its brick chimney as early as the 1950s, especially in the spring. It was said to be quite a local event!

Golden barbed wire, deeply etched into the non-tempered glass, symbolizes power, strength, and defiance. The gold color was achieved through an application of 23k gold leaf, water-based acrylic sizing (an adhesive), and bronze powder. The text in the artwork’s center panel, THE GRASS IS ALWAYS GREENER, might be a reference to the eco-friendliness of the Evergreen State, with its open spaces and natural beauty. The text also playfully references the proverbial fence, which in this case is the international border between the United States and Canada.

About the artist
Tad Savinar was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1950. In 1978, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Throughout his career, he has been known as a visual artist, an urban planner, and even a playwright. His artwork has been exhibited at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, the Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art, Pennsylvania State University in College Station, and the Portland Art Museum in Oregon.

Learn more about Savinar and the performance piece and play that he created in collaboration with actor Eric Bogosian, which earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination and eventually was turned into a film by Oliver Stone.

Throughout the year, we will highlight the artists and artworks in Region 10’s federal and leased spaces as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of GSA's Art in Architecture program