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student artwork

This past semester, I participated in a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics ) education project at Morgantown’s North Elementary School. Sponsored by a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, this project had three primary components, one of which was to create a garden environment for attracting regional birds. My WVU School of Art and Design colleague Joseph Lupo helped the North students use their bird research to create mini comics, while my sculpture students and I focused on designing and building a birdhouse structure.

To begin the birdhouse component of this project, my sculpture students were tasked with creating steel butterflies, flowers, snails, and leaves, which tied into our classroom study of forging, welding, and other metal fabrication techniques. Meanwhile, 4th grade students from North were utilizing their bird research, drawing these creatures onto steel panels with chalk. I took these panels back to our studio and cut them out with a plasma torch, and then these bird panels and my sculpture students’ flora and fauna were cleaned up and painted in multiple bright colors.

I set wooden posts in concrete and built the final birdhouse structure with my friend Aaron Lutz, a WVU forestry program student working at North this year with the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The completed piece contains approximately nine birdhouses, 33 steel bird panels, 33 steel items created by my sculpture students, and a stainless steel nameplate. This project gave my students and I the opportunity to collaborate with students, teachers, and administrators at North in a truly unique manner, and out of the things I did in this amazingly busy school year, this was probably the most enjoyable project to take on.

 

 

I recently finished work on a solar tree prototype, a collaborative project between the School of Art and Design and the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at West Virginia University. This yearlong endeavor involved our sculpture program working with Ramana Reddy, professor of computer science and electrical engineering in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources and his students. The overarching goal of the solar tree was to create a comfortable, shaded area, utilizing the electricity for those enjoying the tree’s shade to charge electronic devices, gain wireless internet access, and connect with its informational interface. There was a dynamic quality to this project, as it brought together individuals from various backgrounds and areas of expertise in an attempt to tackle some of the pressing issues of our time. Now that the solar tree has made its debut, we can begin the dialogue on finding this structure a more permanent home on campus and modify the prototype to make it more appropriate for long term display.

In fall 2015, I taught an advanced sculpture course in the West Virginia University School of Art and Design focusing specifically on metal casting processes. One of the assignments for this class involved creating both a cast bronze sculpture and a customized container for this sculpture. I asked the students to think of this project as a 21-st century reliquary, engaging broader conceptual issues of memory, belief, history, family, spirituality, and time. There was also a strong writing and research component to this assignment, which enabled students to develop their ideas more fully over the course of the term.

For this project, students were required to make their bronze patterns using 3D printing and scanning processes. Most of these students had never cast bronze before, so 3D printing their patterns forced them to work at a smaller, more accessible scale. This technology also helped students get intricate pattern detail much faster than conventional pattern making. In addition, PLA plastic patterns can be burned out of investment molds just like wax patterns, which allowed students to learn the most fundamental principles of lost wax casting.

Students began this project by gathering family heirlooms, memorabilia, keepsakes, and other personal objects they deemed important. Next, they used a rotational tabletop 3D scanner to record these objects. Some students worked directly, scanning items imbued with personal significance & sentimental attachment, while other students invented or modified objects that evoked these strong qualities of memory. From these scans, PLA plastic prints were created using a MakerBot Replicator Mini Compact 3D Printer. To offset the material needs of this endeavor, I was happy to receive an Academic Innovation Technology Integration Grant from the West Virginia University Teaching & Learning Commons Sandbox

Students then assembled these patterns onto wax sprue systems & embedded them in traditional plaster and sand investment molds. After the patterns were evacuated from the molds in a burn out kiln, these hot molds were transported to the foundry area and filled with molten bronze. Students then explored finishing and patina processes to clean up their bronze castings, while resolving the final version of their sculptures using a variety of fabrication, construction, and display methods. I think my students successfully bridged the gap between traditional sculpture making processes and emerging technologies with this project, resulting in some excellent solutions to the idea of a contemporary reliquary.