Monday, March 21, 2016

making a mace

Back in November a colleague at school asked me if I had ever made a ceremonial mace.  I said no.  Then he asked if I'd consider making one.  Lander University was founded in 1872 and though we've had a ton of ceremonies since then, we've never had a mace as a part of those ceremonies.  

I'm pretty sure we could have gone to and ordered a generic mace just like most other universities do.  And we would have received a generic mace that looked like most other maces.  But we had a unique opportunity to have a mace specifically designed and created for our institution.  I was not interested in making a generic mace and when I was given complete artistic freedom with the project, I was happy to be on board.  

You may be wondering, what the heck is a mace?  Well, it's a weapon.  A skull-basher to be exact.  The mace was a heavy object with a handle that could be swung around in hand to hand combat to smash heads.  Many had sharp points to inflict more damage on impact.  The mace as a weapon transitioned into a more symbolic object held by kings to show their power and authority.  At some point European universities began to have specialty maces made for use in their ceremonies and that trend was brought to the United States.  Many of these maces are made of precious metals and fine woods and are valuable symbols of the universities.  

So now you're thinking, why did they ask me to make one, right?

Well, I take very few things seriously but when I agreed to make the mace, I wanted to be sure I undertook this mission with a little less humor than I normally use in my work.  And while I needed to create something formal and symbolic that would satisfy the needs of the school, I also needed to create a contemporary work of art that would satisfy me as an artist.  Oh, and I needed to do all that in a pretty limited amount of time so the mace could be used in the upcoming presidential inauguration in March.

So I started with research.  I wrote words that felt important to the process.  I looked up images for those words.  Then I sketched ideas in my sketchbook.  As a minimalist, that meant distilling a host of images down into just a few very important ones.  Using "Old Main" as an image became a must.  "Old Main" is our bell tower and our most important architectural image on campus.  It has been used on stationary and print based media for as far back as I could trace.  It was also going to be a huge challenge to make out of steel.

After settling on a sketch using the appropriate imagery, I roughed out this 1:1 scale drawing on a scrap of paper in my studio.  (My Taylor Swift studio sketchbook is under the masking tape in the top right of the photo.)

Then I created a model of my abstracted Old Main image using cardboard.

Once I knew the correct angles and geometry (Take that Mrs. Cole!  You thought I'd never be able to do geometry and I didn't use a single formula!) I was ready to plasma cut some steel.

Some of the flat planes of steel were bent and then they were all welded together.

The welded seams are strong and ugly.  The next step is to make them strong and pretty with a grinder.

Like that.  And here's where the finish began to make itself very important.  I had logical reasons for the symbolism I was planning to use in each part of the mace except for the finished coating.  My plan at this point was to powder coat the mace in a smooth chrome finish.  But doing so would cover all the interesting marks left in the surface from the grinding and polishing.  It started to seem like a bad idea to hide the marks of the process and the beautiful and interesting surface that process left behind.

I finished the tower with it's corners and it's spire and then polished it for a few more days.

Here's the cardboard and steel versions side by side for comparison.

Lander is a very small university in South Carolina.  Over the last 6 years I've noted the advantages to our small size and realized that even though we are small, we send our students and faculty out to have a much larger impact in the world.  That impact is represented in the use of a hemisphere of the globe.  "Old Main" rests on top of that hemisphere and these two images complete the top of the mace.

Now it needed a handle.  Using all steel for this project, weight was an important consideration.  It needed to be light enough to carry to the university ceremonies.  I also wanted to keep it balanced properly.  

After settling on the correct length and weighting the handle in the right spots, I added the third image at the bottom.  The small, organic root springs from the bottom of the handle and signifies that Lander is advancing, growing and changing with the world around it.  Our history is important, but our future is key.  Someone should put that on a fortune cookie.

As I said, weight was a consideration, so the entire mace is hollow.  This smaller hemisphere was added to the top to help transition the eye from the handle into the upper imagery.

Once the metal fabrication was compete, it was time for the first test.  My 6 year old daughter picked it up and held it properly to make sure it was light enough to carry.  She was the first human to hold the Lander University mace.  Look how proud she is.

But seriously, the polishing.  It went on forever.  Every time I thought I was finished, I noticed another area that needed work.  I wanted it to be perfect.

I was perfectly willing to set aside my desire for fun for the process of creating the mace.  I understood the serious nature of the project and I think I created a symbolic object that met those needs.  But the desire to have fun is a strong one.  I'm lucky enough to work with colleagues who agree with me on that.  So the art department talked over various ideas for pulling a prank on President Cosentino.  The basic idea was that I would create the real mace and then create some sort of hideous fake mace and we would "present" the fake mace to him first.

There was a mace unveiling ceremony scheduled for last Thursday afternoon so last Wednesday we set up a quick meeting with the president to give him a mace preview.  His schedule was crazy busy but they worked us in.  He came in late from a tough meeting and there we were, the art department, sitting in his office.  I was cradling the mace in my arms covered in a cloth.  He told us about his tough meeting and said how excited he was to get to see the mace.  I explained to him that no one had seen it yet, not even the other members of my department and that I was nervous about it.  I told him I wanted him to see it and to tell me if he thought it was ok.  When I thought it was played up enough, I pulled the cloth off and this is what he saw...

His face was frozen for about three seconds and then he started laughing.

Lucky for us he loves a good prank.

But I think he was a bit disappointed that he didn't get to preview the real mace.

24 hours later though, he got to see it.  He seemed happier about this one!

There was a big group of art students in the gallery for the unveiling.  MoLo stepped right up and grabbed the mace.  She was the first Lander student to hold it.

Dillon learned not to wear his Lander shirt to events like this.  We made him hold it and pose for group photos.  That's Ramey, Syd Vicious, Turner, MoLo, Lemons, Dillon, OG, Jamaica, Jamie and Metal Megan.

Metal Megan got to hold it too.

Y'all know I'm not a hugger.  But when the first university mace is unveiled and the president calls you over for a hug, you become a hugger.  My students loved this moment and they're still giving me a hard time about it.  

Laura was in charge of photographs and she was kind enough to share these images with me.  She'll capture your family portraits, your cute kids or your event with the best images.  I can get you her contact info.

The mace is cool and all, but the real hero was Terry Powell and the beautiful cabinet and stand he made for the mace.  Terry has been with Lander for many, many years and is a Master Carpenter and our Lead Carpenter.  He can do anything with wood.  That's him beside Dr. Cosentino.  Mrs. Cosentino is beside me.

The cabinet is so great.  It cradles the mace perfectly and the stand is designed with a triangle top to match the mace.  Terry is amazing.

A close up Laura took of the mace in it's cabinet.  I was actually very nervous about how the mace would be received by the faculty.  As I said before, this was not a traditional mace and I tried hard to make it a contemporary work of art.  I knew I was happy with it, but I wasn't sure how other academic people might respond to it.  It feels good to have it unveiled and out there now.  

Most of you probably know that my dad was a welding instructor.  He taught me to weld when I was seven years old.  My website bio also says that I was raised by wolves, but the part about learning to weld when I was seven is actually very true.  I spent my entire childhood learning to weld and work with metal.  I remember specific moments when my dad would brag to other welders about how good my welding was.  I lived for those moments.  When I started making my anthropomorphic forms out of steel and making the welds disappear, pop was impressed.  When I made something and he couldn't find the seams, I knew I was doing good work.  

At the unveiling ceremony Dr. Cosentino talked about how the mace would be around as long as the school was around.  He said it was amazing to think that I had made something that would outlive me.  He asked me if my parents knew I made the mace and what they thought of it.

Four years ago this week, my dad passed away.  Every time I weld I think of him.  Every time I run a pretty welding bead or grind a seam so that it's flawless, I think of him.  If he saw the mace, I'm pretty sure he'd ask what the heck that thing was.  But he'd be proud.  And he'd know that he taught me everything I needed to know to be able to make it.  

After the crowd thinned out a little, jon holloway put me up to using the mace to fend off the wild animals on display in the gallery.  These are images by Hal Looney.  You gotta have a little fun, right?  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

spring break...almost

 Last Friday was College Art Day at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.  Each spring, the museum creates a cool day for high school art students.  They get to take a field trip to the museum, see free art exhibits, shop around the art departments in the state and hear from professional artists who went to school in South Carolina.  It usually falls on the Friday before our spring break, so I round up a group of art students and we do a little recruiting and have a lot of fun.  

 This year I invited Drinkwater, Metal Megan, Molly and Scarlett.  Scarlett came up feverish that morning so we ditched her.  This is a student led event so I'm really just there to carry the box of stuff and to make sure they don't get arrested.  

 When the high schools arrived the students streamed in and gathered around our table.  We had the best free stuff and we were having the most fun.  We gave away cups, buttons, sketchbooks and stickers.

 We had special gold stickers too, but if you wanted one of those you had to earn it by doing something strange and letting us post a photo of it on our department Instagram account.  (landervisualart if you're interested)  This young lady balanced a free cup on her head.

 This young lady crushed a stack of sketchbooks while the people behind her tried desperately to figure out what was going on at this table.

This year the Skype interviews with professional artists was particularly interesting for us.  The first one was Lia Newman, who I had a sculpture class with back in grad school.  The second one was Vitaly Odemchuck, a Lander grad who works for Weebly out in San Francisco.  He praised the Lander art department and Professor Slagle.  It was the coolest commercial we could have had.  

 When the recruiting was over we took our team down to the gallery to see the "Carolina Makers" exhibit.  It featured creations made by artists and artisans who live in the Carolinas.  I was particularly fond of the guitars and mandolins.

 Oh and Leigh Magar's hand died, hand sew flag was very cool too.  She was working on it while people came through the exhibit.

 The museum is a very cool place.  They've done such a great job with it.  There's a series of cool old style constellation illustrations on the old mill windows outside the planetarium.

We picked at our provided lunch sandwiches but made sure to save room for a real meal afterwards.  My heart soared when they said they wanted to eat BBQ for lunch.  We mapped the closest place with 4 stars and convoyed there.  Sadly, mustard based sauce is king in the midlands.  I'm not a fan of mustard of any kind, but I am a fan of the BBQ buffet at the Palmetto Pig.  If you're willing to go with the "hot" sauce, it's more of a vinegar base and while it's very warm, it's also very good.  So were the beans and mac and cheese...and the banana pudding.  My team ate like champs.  We all had at least two plates full before dessert.  I was so proud.

 What could be better than a BBQ buffet?  Well, not much, that's for sure.  But I'll tell you, KJ Campbell is.  KJ is the coolest.  I had the pleasure of teaching KJ during my first semester at Lander.  I think I may have taught him every year during his 4 years with us.  He graduated 2 years ago and now works as a graphic designer at WIS-TV in Columbia.  When he heard we were in town, he zipped over to the museum to see us.  

 We caught up on things and chatted a while and then he invited us to come over to the TV station for a tour.

I'm not a fan of TV or TV news usually, but I have to admit this was pretty cool.  He took us right into the on air studio while someone was taping a thing for the news.  We tried to be quiet.  Then we got to go down to the desk and the green screen and goof around.

 We met the weather dude and while I'm sure he's terrific at his job, I think he best be on guard because we were pretty awesome weather people too.  Look at me up there, I'm a natural.  I hear the camera adds 10 pounds to your beard.  

 After our tour we went up to KJ's office and he showed us some of the graphics he's worked on there.  He showed us his very first moving graphic and then he showed us the cool new one he made for severe weather week.  I was amazed by both but the new one was really great.  

KJ is a master of hand lettering.  This is what he does in his spare time for fun.  His office wall showcases these hand lettered quotes done on napkins and scraps of paper.  They're really wonderful.  Metal Megan and Drinkwater are graphic designers and they were awestruck.  Before we left, KJ told us he wanted us to all choose a drawing to take home with us.  

 My choice was easy.  

Thank you KJ!  You rock.

Monday, March 7, 2016

breaking in the freshmen!

 Spring semester brings the freshmen art majors to my door.  I enjoy getting to know the new crop and introducing them to the wonderful world of 3D Design.  Their cry for help from my window popped up only 2 weeks into the semester.  

And I'm not gonna lie, it's tough semester for them.  My projects are seriously challenging and for many of them, just working three dimensionally is a challenge in and of itself.  Their first project is the dreaded paper project and it's enough to make sure they are serious about their art degree.  

 While I work all my students hard, we also believe in having a really good time.  A couple of weeks ago we invited guest artist Leah Cabinum to do a cool demonstration with our students...a demonstration of fire drawing.  That's Leah in the center.  I taught her back at Winthrop years ago when she was beginning her MFA degree.

 Each student was given a spoonful of gunpowder and a small piece of drawing paper.  The gunpowder was arranged into lines of various qualities.

 Then the paper was carefully transported to the outside work space and the gunpowder was ignited.

 It was even cooler than it sounds.  Next time you see me, ask to see the videos.

 Once the gunpowder was burned, the line was left charred into the paper.  The group of papers was then arranged to complete an almost continuous line.  

Then it was back to work on the paper project!

 It took forever for critique day to arrive.  Those are students touching a project during critique.

 For their first critique, the MWF class decided to go funeral formal and dress up.  The other classes did not dress up, so they do not get their photo here.

As we finished up project 1, lives were changed forever.  At least a couple of them felt that terrible feeling of actually enjoying 3D work.  They will be mine!  

 Back to having fun.  A couple of Saturday's ago, Lander hosted the Hustle for Habitat 5K fundraiser.  I decided to run and even offered to wear a tutu if the department raised $1,000.  Lucky for me, no one wanted to endure that sight and they failed to reach their goal!  I still ran and dared my art students to try to keep up.  James is a legitimate runner and he's challenged me before and lost.  He put in some time training before this run and he kept up for over half the race.  We passed a lot of people and only got passed by one guy.  I ended up finishing in 3rd place.  James was the first student to cross the finish line and he was about 40 seconds behind me.  That's him at the finish.

Singletary, Queen Elizabeth (Mini Me) and Syd Vicious were cool enough to participate. 

  That's them racing past the speed limit sign.

 James got cold and left before they finished but there's the art group minus him at the end.

 Laura was also there but she was the professional photographer, not a runner.  She snapped this nice one of me finishing the race.

 And this nice one of James and me catching our breath.

Back to work...

 One of my favorite days of the year is Plaster Pouring Day.  This is the MWF class just before the plaster began to flow.  They're normally a good bit more stylish than this.

 Those old clothes got messed up pretty fast.  

 It's great to see the teamwork on Plaster Pouring Day.  

 It's also cool to see the lengths some will go to save their compositions.  Ricardo stretched out on the floor to save his design.

 The "after" photo.  

 This is the TR class ready to pour.  Please take a moment to notice Kenya's hazmat suit and Spencer's Goodwill seersucker pants and patterned shirt.

 Their projects were smaller which helped keep the mess down a bit.

 Just kidding.  The miracle of Plaster Pouring Day is that there's always a mess!

 And their "after" photo with a guest appearance by Oscar.

 I also have to mention the little class...Adara, Brianna and Paradise have their own tiny class.  They made up for their small size with a huge mess.

Each year I tell the students to wear clothes they don't care about to Plaster Pouring Day.  Each year some recent breakup coincides with this exciting day giving us the infamous "ex-boyfriend shirt".  We commemorated this tradition this year by putting the shirt up on the studio wall.