Windhover contemplative center nearing completion

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Joe Oliveira, son of the late artist and art professor Nathan Oliveira, works with Jeanette Smith-Laws, director of Student Unions and Operations and architect Kent Chiang during the installation of four of his father’s paintings in Windhover, a new contemplation center on campus. (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

Windhover, a sanctuary for quiet contemplation, is nearing completion on the west side of campus on Santa Teresa Street.

The center was designed around four large abstract paintings inspired by birds in flight – known as the “Windhover” series – created by the late Nathan Oliveira, an internationally acclaimed artist who taught at Stanford for more than three decades.

Oliveira, who died in 2010, long dreamed of creating a campus center to house the paintings and to provide a quiet place where members of the Stanford community could rest in quiet reflection.

In a 2002 interview with Stanford Magazine, Oliveira said: “I’ve always thought if I had wings, I could fly. Well, I do have wings in my mind … and these paintings are like a catalyst that can take you where you want your mind to fly.”

Oliveira created the paintings over a 25-year span in his studio in the Stanford hills. He was a familiar sight walking among the foothills around Stanford’s Dish, scanning the sky for kestrels and red-tailed hawks.

“These painting were born in the hills around Stanford,” said Joe Oliveira, the artist’s son and agent.

Last week, art installers mounted the paintings on the walls – each painting has its own room – under Joe Oliveira’s watchful eye.

“My dad would be so pleased, so enthusiastically happy to see this,” he said, standing in the room with the largest painting – a diptych that combines a bird’s wings with horizons and views of planetary elements.

Oliveira said everything about the building’s design contributes to the calming nature of the space, including the use of filtered light and natural-colored, rammed-earth walls – an ancient building method his father had envisioned for the center.

The landscaped grounds around Windhover feature a granite labyrinth, trees young and old, and a small reflecting pool. The center’s floor-to-ceiling windows offer visitors glimpses of the paintings from the outside.

Windhover will open to the Stanford community in mid-September. Stanford IDs are required to enter. A formal dedication will be held in early October.

KATHLEEN J. SULLIVAN, Stanford News Service