One art installation on Portland's new north-side light rail pays tribute in part to a neighborhood's Polish-Catholic identity.

At the MAX station next to Overlook Park, Portland artist Fernanda D'Agostino created two nine-foot-high bronze and glass towers modeled on Catholic roadside shrines prevalent in Poland. Adding an Oregon spiritual twist, the towers bear images of people imagining their most cherished encounters with nature.

Passenger trains begin running May 1 on the six-mile, $350 million line, which connects the Rose Quarter to the Expo Center.

'I wanted to show how people's inner life, whoever they are, is really, really rich,' says D'Agostino, who worked with a 175-year-old German stained-glass company to produce the multi-colored and multi-layered panels.

'I wanted the towers to mean something to anybody whatever their spiritual life, whether they are a secular humanist, or a Catholic or a Jew. I was thinking of the spirit as people's inner life and I was getting into people's heads. . . . I was after what gives people a sense of wonder.'

Initial art committee meetings about two years ago presented a 'conundrum,' D'Agostino said. Prevalent in the committee were members of the Polish community, which has peopled St. Stanislaus Parish and a community hall on North Interstate Avenue for a century. But also in the group were representatives of Kaiser Permanente health clinics at the station site and who pushed for some kind of healthcare motif. Added to that were neighborhood leaders touting racial diversity and conservationists pointing to the area's reputation as a gateway to nature.

D'Agostino's response was to do copious research.

She started reading about Poland, where shrine towers dot the roadsides and cover rustic home-hewn statues, often of the Virgin Mary. The idea was to keep spiritual ideals in front of travelers and to offer protection from dangers. The Polish landscape seemed to be permeated with the Catholic faith.

Also common in Poland, of course, are stained-glass religious images.

With that premise, D'Agostino began to apply other ideas the committee gave. She learned that experiences with nature and light have been shown to help medical patients improve. So she took her video camera and over a period of months met with Overlook residents in parks and at events. She asked each about their most meaningful moment in nature.

A 4-year-old girl related her day at the Oregon Zoo butterfly garden. A man recalled a moment in the woods gazing at the sunlight filtered through the veins of leaves.

A Hispanic boy told of the roadside wonders he saw on a trip from the American Southwest to Oregon, where he was to live with his uncle. A stooped elderly man remembered his youth, when he would jog on the Oregon coast to the beach-bound wreck of the ship Peter Iredale.

As the subjects shut their eyes and imagined, she videotaped their faces. Then the artist visited the places they described (or similar places if the spot was too far away) and shot more video. She then merged the video of the face with the video of the place, 'searched for the magic moment' when the two layers harmonized and created still photographs.

Those images were shipped off to Derix Glass Studio, a German company that specializes in church stained glass. What returned are 12 colored glass panels with faces deep in peaceful thought, with the subjects of their imagination overlaid.

'In the right light you can see those layers, and it is like a hologram,' D'Agostino explains.

The towers have inside light sources for nighttime viewing. In the day, the images vary in their transparency and reflectivity, depending on sunlight, or the lack thereof. The change in appearance is vital for art that people will walk by day after day, evening after evening.

'The piece has moods,' says D'Agostino. 'At night you can see everything. In the day, one or two people's faces will light up depending on how the light hits it. On a cloudy day they all look like a daguerreotype.'

As seasons change, the angle of sunlight will bring out different details, reflections and refractions.

D'Agostino also created a windscreen for the station. It includes an image from a fresco in Pompeii: an ideal garden with birds, orange trees, and figure walking toward a blue door.

'There are a lot of ideas about transformation and change in people's life,' she says of the entire Overlook project.

'I am still amazed that my peers weren't phobic about art that spoke to the religious and transcendental importance,' says Mark Kirchmeier, a member of St. Andrew Parish who served on the art selection committee.

'The images are very meditative,' says Mary Priester, manager of Tri-Met's public art program. 'They are very poetic and mysterious. It clearly has a religious feel to it, but it is inclusive. It has a universal quality about it. That is really important.'

Overall, people at St. Stanislaus welcome the MAX, but are not overly excited. The line may bring more parishioners and visitors, but construction has made parking and auto access more difficult.

Parishioner Nick Gallasch has served as a parish liaison for the project. He takes heart in the process. Original plans called for the removal of curbside trees. But Gallasch appealed and, with the help of Mayor Vera Katz, prevailed. The trees remain.