The big red rabbit is in town, and it's an eyeful.
After months of assembly, the 56-foot-long aluminum sculpture called "Leap" now hangs in its spot at the center of Sacramento International Airport's new terminal, awaiting the oohs, aahs and what-the-hecks headed its way next month.
It's one of a dozen pieces of new airport art, nine of them by Northern California artists, that make up the biggest public art project in Sacramento history.
Artists and their fabrication teams are putting the finishing touches on the works in preparation for the Oct. 6 opening of the airport's $1 billion expansion project.
The retooled airport includes a four-story glass and steel central terminal and a separate jet concourse building, designed to move many people quickly. But the new buildings also will team with the existing, art-packed Terminal A to do double duty as Northern California's newest art gallery.
County officials set aside $8 million of the construction budget for art, most of it for fabrication and installation costs. Two million dollars of that money has been set aside for upkeep. The money comes from airport revenues, not city or county budgets.
Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission representatives say their goal is art strong enough to stand out amid the airport hubbub.
That starts with the rabbit. Designed by Denver artist Lawrence Argent, the rabbit appears to have leaped into the four-story, glass building from the fields outside, and is diving toward a granite suitcase, the size of a queen bed, sitting on the baggage claim area floor. The suitcase top is a swirling vortex.
Some county officials were not thrilled. Former County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, now an assemblyman, expressed misgivings when the rabbit was shown to the county board for approval, saying he isn't sure it represents Sacramento. Supervisor Susan Peters opposed the rabbit too, asking, "Why not a cougar or wild turkey?"
Shelly Willis, the arts commission's public art director, however, called the rabbit "spectacular," and said it will grab travelers' attention and possibly prick their sense of wonder: Does it represent a harried traveler? Is it rushing to gather its luggage and get out of there? Or is it a child's stuffed toy, leaping to the safety of its suitcase?
Nationally known artist Donald Lipski said the rabbit fits in its new home. "I love the scale of it, the energy, the way it is leaping through the air, the whimsy."
Lipski, of Philadelphia, is creator of another new airport art piece, the "Acorn Steam" sculpture that hangs in the jet concourse building. The title is an anagram that, when the letters are rearranged, forms a local city name.
The piece is a chandelier resembling three valley oak tree trunks connected at the center and splaying out like a propeller. Five thousand crystals adorn its limbs. Lipski says he can't wait to see it when the early morning sun hits the crystals.
The rabbit and the chandelier fit an underlying theme at the new facility. Both the architecture and some of the artwork are designed to link with nature. The main terminal's arched ceiling girders echo the tree canopy of Sacramento neighborhood streets.
Other artists have created mosiacs depicting animals, especially birds. A major wall piece depicts the faces of Sacramento baggage handlers. The arts commission website at www.sacmetroarts.org contains information about all the airport art.
Viewers can get an early look for free at an airport open house Oct. 2. Reservations can be made at www.eventbrite.com.
A smaller party will be held Oct. 1. Cost is $75. Reservations can be made at www.experiencebparty. eventbrite.com.
The arts commission plans to offer airport art tours by request after opening day.
Artist Argent said he knows some people will stop and scratch their heads when they see his red rabbit. But that's what he wants.
"In the visual bedlam of an airport, it gives you a moment of reflection," he said. "You will think about something the piece prompted, something personal. Then it will have done what it is supposed to do."