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In early 1999, a nationwide search was launched by the Philadelphia Office of Arts and Culture, Percent for Art Program, to find the right artists to create several major artworks for the new International Terminal at Philadelphia International Airport. Among the locations for artwork, the most challenging was the Arrivals Hall, a site that all involved hoped would be an inspiring entranceway to the new facility, to the city and to the United States.

Rob Fisher, an internationally recognized sculptor from Pennsylvania, was intrigued with the project and decided to enter the competition. He found his inspiration in two unlikely events. The first took place when Fisher came down with the flu. His family physician recommended Garry Wills' book, Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, as excellent "recovery reading." The second inspiration came to him in a souvenir shop in downtown Philadelphia where Fisher spotted a small replica of the Declaration of Independence on imitation parchment paper, and remembered that as a child he had been fascinated by this object. These two events were the impetus for "American Dream," Fisher's concept. He won the competition and was awarded the commission in March 2000.


"American Dream” is a visionary construct of America as seen through the eyes of an artist whose family, with its immigrant roots, has lived the American dream. Rendered in metal, glass, and light, the suite of three artworks that comprise "American Dream" creates from the words, signatures and image of the Declaration of Independence, a unified work of art. Says Fisher, "It is, in fact, a work of concrete poetry visually conveying its meaning through the graphic arrangement of letters, words and symbols on the 'page' that is the Arrivals Hall."

The three related artworks of "American Dream" are the following:

“Quotation” is an enormous back-lighted 250-foot long metal and neon sign proclaiming the most famous credo from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This major component and the railing described below was fabricated in Pittsburgh by Advance Sign Company.

“Signature Piece” is a ninety-foot long illuminated railing made of extruded aluminum, LED lighting and frosted glass onto which are etched the highly magnified signatures of the signers. Fisher comments, "Fifty-six signatures so intimate and personal, made by human hand using quill and ink on parchment, are embedded with the content, emotion and drama of the moment."

“Declaration” is a ten-foot high artwork of illuminated glass, creatively divided into thirteen segments representing the original colonies. “This artwork,” says Fisher, "presents an image of the entire Declaration of Independence, enabling a visitor to read its phrases and understand why our country declared itself free." Rendered like parchment, the glass has the text sandblasted into its surface. Fisher chose to produce this aspect of the artwork at Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany, an internationally renowned stained glass atelier.


For Fisher, creating a major entryway for visitors and returnees to the United States took advantage of his interests in American history, calligraphy, signage and literature. "American Dream" also challenged his abilities as an artist, designer and engineer.

Fisher traveled in the U.S. and Europe, working with some of the world's leading experts in glass, lighting, neon, parchment and American history. He viewed the actual Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, spent time at the Library of Congress photographing one of the original 1823 engraved facsimiles, worked with glassmakers in Munich, and picked up some "colonial flavor" at Williamsburg, VA. He obtained authentic parchment from the 1750s from a dealer in Philadelphia, studied an 1823 printed parchment at the Massachusetts Historical Society. "Yet, at the same time," says Fisher, "I have taken advantage of what our age has to offer in terms of scanning, processing, high resolution digital imaging and data conversion to operate equipment that can etch, carve and waterjet cut the glass and metal into the complex shapes of the sculpture." As he has done many times before as a sculptor, in "American Dream," he is creating the perfect combination of art and technology in his work.

Other artworks by Rob Fisher may be seen in the “Portfolio” section, under his name, at

To contact artist:
Rob Fisher Sculpture
228 North Allegheny Street
Bellefonte, PA 16823
TEL: (814) 355-1458

"American Dream" artwork copyright Rob Fisher 2003