About a year ago I was contacted by Jennifer Donlon from the Ninety Six Historical Society about the possibility of creating a historical public sculpture for the town of Ninety Six, SC. Ninety Six is a 15 minute drive from Lander's campus and this is exactly the type of project I like to have for my Advanced Sculpture classes. Jennifer indicated that the town wanted something like silhouettes of the three different types of soldiers that had fought to control the town since the Revolutionary War. After we talked a couple of times about how we could make this a project for my students, we came up with the idea of 3 different soldiers created as steel cut outs. We talked about the logistics of such a project, including finances and how long it might take.
During the summer months Jennifer wrote a grant to fund the project for the town and sought out all the approvals from various town entities. At the start of the fall semester I provided her with a couple of drawings and some information about the materials and the timeline for the project. It is not uncommon for a project like this to fall apart anywhere during this process. Often it seems if just one person or group is not on board, the whole thing can be derailed pretty easily. But Jennifer worked hard to keep the project on course and she jumped through all the hoops necessary to get final approval as well as a fully funded grant from Senator Floyd Nicholson.
I knew I would have a good group of students in Advanced Sculpture for the spring semester, so I made plans to have this become their first project. I placed the order for a staggering amount of steel and when the semester began, the steel was waiting on us at the loading dock.
These sheets of steel were 3/8" thick and 4' x 8' in size. To say they were heavy would be an understatement. One of the first things the students learned was how to work together to move the steel inside.
On any other day I'd tell you that Andrew and Travis were texting, checking Facebook, tweeting, or Google searching disturbing images, but on this day they were actually looking up historical soldier uniforms for reference.
When everyone finally agreed that the figures were proportional and historically accurate, the heavy sheets had to be moved outside so the plasma cutting could begin. The plasma torch cuts a nice, neat little line out of the steel, but with steel this thick you have move at a snail's pace so it took a long time. Each student got a chance to cut out sections. Some students had steadier hands than others and they were elected to have more turns than their shakier peers.
Each day, we'd move the steel outside and then we'd move it back inside to keep it out of the rain. Blake and Sean, who are not in the class were in the wrong place at the wrong time and they were drafted to help out.
Above is the grass median in the center of town where the sculptures were to be located. The three figures were designed to be between the historic marker and the town clock.
This is the same location from the opposite view. The spot is right on the main highway that runs through the town. The visitor's center is directly across the street.
For interior detail lines to be cut out, we had to drill starter holes for each new line. Again, this is thick steel and it takes some sculpture muscles to drill through it. After we lost several drill bits, Cessquatch was promoted to chief driller. I talk a lot of trash about Cessquatch, but I have to admit, she's got some sculpture muscles. You'll see those again in a moment.
As I said, I knew this was a great group of students when the semester began. I've had half of them in 3 or 4 classes over the past four years and all of them know my work ethic expectations. But as talented and hardworking as they are, they are even more gifted with a healthy sense of humor. (If any of you read this, don't let it go to your head and get back to work!) So with each class and each task there were new rounds of jokes and extremely goofy things going on. And with these three new members of our studio environment just asking to be messed with, Cessquatch and Tyler wasted no time posing for photos with their new friend.
The cutting went on and on forever. When one figure was cut out, he was moved over to the grinding table and the students who were not cutting started grinding. Then the grinding went on and on forever.
You may recall that during this outdoor work time our little part of the South was dipped in something called the Polar Vortex and Winter Storm So and So. At 9:45 in the morning our outdoor work space is still in the shade and some mornings we were well below freezing. And yes, I had my minions out there working. We did take a day off when it snowed. Those photos are in an earlier post.
We were talking about sculpture muscles? Some of the torch cuts were not perfectly clean and with so many curves some of the pieces did not want to let go. Anyone who was having a tough day or a bad week was then allowed to smash the steel with a hammer to break it free. This piece was especially tough to break. There's a whole series of photos of Cessquatch wailing on the steel with this hammer. One images shows the hammer handle bending under the force of her swing. And after a bit, the steel surrendered and dropped to the ground. I think I heard it cry.
Once all three figures were cut out and cleaned up with a grinder, it was time to start cutting out the bottom supports and braces.
This is when the students got the opportunity to work on refining their welding skills. Several of them found the right combination of compound movements and pace needed to create strong, nice looking welds.
There was a lot of welding to be done on the bottom of each form. Then holes were cut for the anchor bolts and they were ready to be cleaned up for painting.
Then it was time to prepare the site for installation day. This required our first field trip out to the site during class time. The students surveyed the site and discussed several options for placement. They considered all the different ways the sculptures would be viewed and they decided on an arrangement that would allow for optimum views from all directions.
Above three students stand in for the sculptures while everyone else checks the view from the other angles. The spots were measured and marked so that the area could be checked for underground utilities before we started digging.
Back at the sculpture studio the painting began. Students were put in groups and each group was assigned a sculpture to paint. Each figure got three coats of flat black.
Meanwhile the students were working toward a deadline with a second sculpture project. At any time during the first part of the semester, if they were not working on the public art project, they were working on their Dr. Seuss inspired small scale project.
After the all clear was given on underground utilities at the site, it was time for more heavy lifting. You're looking at 1,440 pounds of Quikrete cement mix. The dedicated sculpture professor had to load this into his truck at Lowes and then lift it all up on the sculpture loading dock and then move it all inside out of the rain. Its no wonder the dedicated sculpture professor has back pain. Then the dedicated sculpture professor made the students do the rest of the heavy lifting.
This meant another field trip during class to create the concrete pads to anchor each sculpture. Each spot had to have a rectangle dug out 6 inches deep, 3 feet long and 2 feet wide. We built wood forms and inserted steel rebar in each cavity to anchor and reinforce each pad.
Then there was more heavy lifting. Cessquatch was eager to show off her sculpture muscles again. Seriously, the bag weighs almost as much as she does.
Here, the guys take a smoke break while the ladies do all the work.
The cement was mixed and poured into the forms and then covered with plastic to protect the pads from the incoming rain.
Travis, Tyler and Andrew looking like Everett, Pete and Delmar from Oh Brother Where Art Thou.
Lander has a policy that discourages professors from driving students around in their own vehicles. For these field trips, that meant I had to put my life into the hands of the students. As it turns out, they drive pretty safely. The unforeseen danger was the assault on my ears and eyes. It seems these students like to "dance" to some loud, ungodly sounds coming from the car stereo system. Even the drivers got in on the fun.
And the passengers lost all control of their body parts. Arms, legs and lips were flailing all about the car interior. Abby and Mean Megan were throwing down in the back. It took a few days for me to recover from this and for the nightmares to stop.
BACK TO OUR STORY...
We uncovered the concrete pads and centered each sculpture on it's pad. Then all we had to do was use our hammer drill to drill the holes in the concrete for the anchor bolts. Katertot said she was using a Yoga move here as she tried to avoid standing on the very angry fire ants as she drilled her holes.
Mean Megan is inserting the anchor bolts above while a reporter from the Index Journal talks with the Mayor of Ninety Six in the background.
Abby and Caitlin supervise Tyler on the hammer drill.
A few of the students got to talk with the reporter as well. Let's hope they said intelligent and articulate artsy things.
Once all the bolts were tightened, the job was done. We cleaned up the site, made a few photos and we were done.
That's my students with the mayor and the members of the community. They were all so helpful and friendly as we did the installation.
That's the class standing between all three sculptures.
Abby is a bit of a hugger. I have a strict no hugging rule in sculpture so she jumps at any chance to hug just to irritate me. Everyone else is holding up their imaginary drum sticks like the drummer boy. The names are: Caitlin, Tyler, Mean Megan, Cessquatch, Katertot, Abby, Travis and Andrew.
And there's one of the students, the mayor and Jennifer Donlon.
We finished a little early and it was suggested that we have a celebratory lunch at the local Mexican restaurant before returning to the sculpture studio. I'm a sucker for a Speedy Gonzales so we had a quick lunch where we discussed the finer points of Post Modern sculpture over chips and salsa. It was a well deserved break for these folks.
And now that they've had 30 minutes or so to enjoy their success, it's time for them to get back to work on their third project.