This semester Braden wanted to design and create a typographic sculpture to install on campus. He spent a significant amount of time researching different examples of typographic sculptures as well as different sculptural media and processes. He eventually settled on using the power of a word to inspire viewers.
He then started listing words and phrases that would be considered inspiring and he kept working until he had something that he felt would fit the Lander campus and communicate something about his experience here with us. He decided to create a sculpture using the word "achieve".
Then it was time to make a decision about the material. Braden was already skilled at welding and had even created his own welding alphabet for a graphic design project. Once he realized he could combine a functional feature with his sculpture, he decided on using concrete as his medium. This was an interesting choice since neither he nor I knew anything about casting concrete letters. But that's how we roll in sculpture. Exploration is the key.
Braden put his graphic design skills to use while designing each letter. He also got to put his Photoshop skills to use when he created a spiffy public art proposal to explain where and how he wanted to install the sculptural bench. This proposal was sent directly to the president of the university for approval. See, not only did Braden want to make this huge thing that neither of us knew how to make, but he wanted to permanently install it on the front lawn of the brand new residence hall. Aim high, right?
After the president met Braden and talked with him a few minutes, he was sold on the idea. He loved the inspirational context of the sculpture and he even walked around campus with us to see if there might even be a more prominent location for the sculpture. Once we all agreed it worked best in Braden's original location, he gave us the approval and told us not to mess it up.
Braden purchased several pieces of plywood and then he sat down and did a LOT of math. Neither of us are very good at math. But we figured it out and in just a couple of days we had the plywood forms built for the entire word.
We connected the letters in two sections and attempted to load them into my truck to transport them to the site. Someone (who we will not name here) dropped their end of the plywood form and several pieces of wood broke off. This minor setback delayed our transportation a little. (Thanks Oscar!)
When the plywood forms finally made it to the site safely, we attempted to line the letters up and secure them with braces and stakes.
We anchored rebar into the ground inside the forms to secure the sculpture in place.
During some of our math lessons, we tried to figure out how many cubic yards of concrete we would need. Those numbers were outrageous and we realized they couldn't be correct. Then we got a better estimate using a concrete slab calculator which told us we'd only need to mix 18 bags of 80 pound concrete mixture. In the end it took 24 bags and just under 2,000 pounds of mix.
Our concrete mixer was Rashaad. He won the friend of the year award for mixing almost all 24 bags. I had to help him near the end but he did very well.
Oscar took a nap in the background while Drinkwater did homework and cheered us on.
Braden worked the concrete into the forms as we mixed. He did his best to level and smooth the tops.
Drinkwater did some work too and Erica came by to support us.
The backs got sore as the shadows got long. The sun was setting on us as we mixed the last few bags.
The braces held and there were very little bowing. We were relieved that the forms held. Braden and I had visions of the forms tearing apart and concrete oozing onto the pretty new grass.
But it all held together and as the final bit of sun streaked across the grass, we covered it all up and called it a day.
We all slept soundly and early the next morning I took the plastic off to see how we did.
After another day we arrived back to pop the plywood forms off and to see the sculpture for the first time. We had no idea what we were going to find under the wood. Luckily the air pockets were worked out by the hammer and we had straight smooth sides to the letters.
The concrete expanded a little which left some of our interior pieces of wood rather tight. We had to do some precision hammering to get all the pieces out.
But look what Braden did! It turned out great.
It's an inspiring sculpture that our students will see several times each day. It's also a bench where students can gather and hang out in the courtyard. I was so proud of Braden that I let him graduate.