Friday, March 21, 2014

public sculpture project from start to lunch

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. 

 Once inside the students had to use their drawing skills to transfer the four inch sketches on to the eight foot sheets of steel.  We used no projectors or other cheats.  They got on their hands and knees and roughed in the figures with chalk.  Everyone worked together to get arms and legs proportional and to make sure the poses seemed as natural as possible.  

 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.


 Last Thursday we loaded up the three finished sculptures and some of our tools and we headed back out to finish this project.  Andrew was kind enough to use his truck to transport the sculptures.  The hardest work was behind us at this point so everyone had a pleasant attitude on installation day.  It helped that several members of the community came out to watch the show.  

 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.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

spring break shenannigans

So last week was my spring break.  As usual, I thought I'd spend some time drawing and sculpting and having fun.  And as I should have guessed, I did little drawing, no sculpting and lots of having fun.

Here's a quick photo tour of how unproductive I was:

 The break started last weekend when we had dinner with Ginger at The Back Porch in Spartanburg.  Everything was delicious, especially the super dooper moon pie dessert.

 The weather was pretty springy.  We had a few days of nice warm 70 degree sunshine and a couple of cloudy, cooler days.  The current forecast calls for freezing rain here in two days.  Then a return to mid 70s for the end of the week.  

 Zeke was glad to have the extra company this week.  We took a couple of short hikes at the nearby state park.  

 I was fortunate enough to have my schedule line up with Mom and LJ's lunch schedule.  They are very busy retired people and getting to have lunch with them is a rare and precious event.  We ate at Delightful Dishes in Inman and Ginger was kind enough to come out from the kitchen to chat with us for a minute.  Definitely a high point of the week.

 With the time change, there was more time after school for playing outside.  That's Violet posing in front of the yellow bush.  Look out Cessquatch, it looks like there's a new "face of Lander" in town.

 I wont say exactly how much time I spent drawing, but the rainy morning in the middle of the week was well spent.  I was able to finish this new drawing before going back outside to catch the afternoon sun.

 ...because how can you stay inside on a day like this?

 Another nice hike with Zeke at Horseshoe Falls.  

 Oh and I got to spend a little time catching up with Ali, my baptist friend.  She's engaged, planning a wedding, going to grad school and doing all sorts of things.  I don't talk on the phone so we only stay in touch through texting.  The gossip had piled up since New Years so we had some coffee and cake at Coffee Underground and then headed down Main Street to get some burgers and gossip some more.  And by "gossip" I mean we talked about art theory and modern sculptural practices...of course.

 And then we finally got to finish our hike to Little Bradley Falls in Saluda, NC.  G and I tried this hike with the kids back during the days of the Polar Vortex and had to turn back when we couldn't cross the river without getting everyone's feet wet and hypothermic.  Friday I was able to talk G into skipping out on work early enough for us to find the waterfall.  It was cold when we started but it warmed up a little.

 It's a short and pretty easy hike as long as you don't fall into the water during any of the crossings.  The reward at the destination is well worth the wet toes.  It's such a beautiful place.

 There are a couple of trails going up the side of the waterfall so you can view it from several vantage points.  The sun was pouring in behind the cliff, pardon my hand blocking the glare.

 We took Zeke and Tiki with us and they both did well.  Tiki was able to ride inside G's jacket during the water crossings and she was able to run under the fallen trees.  Zeke braved the cold water and did his best to make me enjoy the cold water with him.  He tried to pull me off the rocks during crossings and when we climbed back down the trail beside the falls, I'm pretty sure he was trying to kill me.  Still a great hike.  Epic hike.

 For a sense of scale, that's me and Zeke on the second level of the falls.

 The kids were ticked that they didn't get to go hiking, especially when they heard the dogs went with us.  So we had to make it up to them by taking them to the local park.  The park was crowded and while we watched Blue and Violet run wild, we also watched as some kid dropped like a stack of bricks from the monkey bars.  He hit so hard I'm pretty sure he left a crater.  The fall knocked the wind out of him and when he couldn't get his breath he passed out.  With an unconscious kid on the ground, G was required to jump up and check on him.  Lucky for us, by the time we got to him he came back around.  His dad was just starting to panic and I felt so bad for him.  The kid kept crying and complaining of his butt and his wrist hurting and eventually the dad gave in and took him to get checked out.  At that point I was ready to wrap our kids in bubble wrap and take them home.  Instead we went to Waffle House because, well, waffles.

Today it's chilly again and raining pretty hard.  Blue said to me, "I can't believe you're going to run today in the rain."  A few minutes later he asked G if he could go running with me.  He put in a little over a mile in the rain and was soaked from the knees down but he had fun.  

So, art.  Yeah.  I gotta do some more of that really soon.