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The White Rock Lake Water Theater
by Tom Orr and Frances Bagley

Story + Photographs by JR Compton

Text from the Tour   Dedication   official statement   They will be shy at first

I keep going back to this piece on my favorite lake. And every time I visit, I find
more birds enjoying the perches there. At night you could even say it glows.

White Rock Lake Water Theater
dedicated and honored

It was an amazing afternoon and evening into the sunset when Frances Bagley and Tom Orr's White Rock Lake Water Theater was officially dedicated November 17, 2001.

Frances Bagley and Tom Orr, married collaborators, speak to the crowd.

The weather was pleasantly warm for late autumn as the extended, older generation artist family stood on one side of the long, narrow back porch of the Bath House Cultural Center to hear bureaucrats take their credits.

Many more people stood on or walked along the shore to watch the birds enjoy their strange new habitat arching out around the long- unused semi-circular, paved swimming hole or the sun setting behind the farshore skyline.

After everyone involved in the extensive project sponsored by Dallas Water Utilities Department and the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs was named and applauded, Frances and Tom told the long and winding story of the piece itself.

Part of the crowd watches Frances and Tom.
The fancy binoculars are for watching the birds.


We learned how the expected turtles couldn't share the low, round disks just above water level, because they couldn't climb that far up. And, more interesting, that — after many failures — many of the tall, white cylindrical perches would glow faintly once night descended. Solar provided the energy, captured by a collector on the pier on the far side of the pool.

Many waited the long while as the sun set, the nearly occluded moon rose, stars peeked out and several close-order fly-bys skimmed the far-off, mid-lake surface, well behind the Water Theater poles.

Then three nearly invisible pelicans, barely silhouetted against the darking sky, spiraled down in careful, quiet arcs within the arch of art, honored the not- yet glowing poles with a near touch- down, then quietly swooped off into the night.


A man looks out at the Water Theater and the
setting sun at the dedication in November.


We drove back by much later into the night, and the accumulated, 40-watt glowing was only just discernible. Almost as if it were light reflected from the well-lit building. We dared not break the lake's midnight curfew or risk the $200 fine to take a later look.

Many species gather in the Water Theater late in December.

 Text from the 2001 White Rock Lake Artists Tour:

Frances Bagley and Tom Orr's collaborative piece out in the pre-Integration, 1950s swimming area captured JR's attention for many long minutes while Kathy explored inside. Only the tallest poles on the far perimeter of the semi-circular array of vertical perches were being favored by birds. Especially photogenic were several large birds — including this avian trio [below] on dark poles. What looks like a flag standard on the right is actually a cormorant drying its wings.

birds on poles

The White Rock Lake Water Theater, an installation by Dallas sculptors Tom Orr and Frances Bagley behind the Bath House Cultural Center, waits for the birds to come back.

More comments on this intriguing and growing work are included on the White Rock Lake Artists' Studio Tour page.


O-form for Orr-formed O during production of the Water Theater.


They will be shy at first...


When the Water Theater was still in progress, a sign near the work explained:

"The installation in progress is called White Rock Lake Water Theater. It will be an environment which combines nature with education and art. It will extend the wildlife gathering place already in existence here in the water by providing more perches for the birds and floating disks on which the turtles can sun themselves and off which the birds can fish. Human visitors to the site will be able to witness the habits, beauty and grace of some of the layers of the life with whom we share our city as they perform their daily rituals. 

The next part of the installation will be minimal seating on land at either end of the design as well as information on the various species of birds and turtles that may be seen here. There will be a viewing scope installed for a closer look.

It will take awhile for the water theater to attract its performers. Most of the birds leave in the summer and they will be shy at first when they return.

A model of the project can be viewed inside the Bath House."

Past being shy — December 29, 2001

White Rock Lake Water Theater
official statement 

White Rock Lake is a jewel in the landscape of Dallas and in the lives of thousands of Dallasites who frequent the lake each day. The lake provides not only a wide range of recreational and aesthetic activities for people but a habitat for an abundance of wildlife living there right inside the city.

During visits to the Bath House and lake it is impressive to realize the abundance of birds and wildlife that congregate near there. It seems that the remains of the former swimming facility has a special attraction for them.

Birds perching on the existing poles day after day (except in the summer) has given inspiration to blend aspects of the special qualities of White Rock Lake in an educational environment. In the water, lakeside of the Bath House, we are building a Water Theater for the water wildlife to perform their daily rituals. Human visitors to the site can witness their habits, beauty and grace while appreciating and learning about some of the layers of life with whom we share our city.

The Water Theater will extend the wildlife gathering place already in existence at the site. The birds will have more perches, the turtles will have floating disks on which to sun themselves and the fish will be attracted by the underwater parts of the poles.  

For the people, two groups of gathering areas will extend onto the land where educational illustrations will describe the most commonly seen water wildlife at White Rock Lake. A binocular viewing scope will be provided for closer viewing of the animals.

The evening of the work's dedication

"The Water Theater, creates an arc as it travels in the water to and from the shore. Compositionally, a random order of varying lines and disks subtly dance in the water with daylight reflections and at night a portion of the poles will glow from within. This is done by the use of solar power in 1/3 of the poles. At night the selected elements will give off a gentle soft glow similar to the light of a firefly. The scale of the environment is large enough to hold its own in the great outdoors, yet quiet so that it does no detract or obscure the natural beauty and view of the lake. The Water Theater will constantly change with the light, the weather, the seasons and the wildlife."

Frances Bagley and Tom Orr

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