A Monumental Forged Steel Sculpture for The Armand Hammer United World College of the American West and The Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict in Montezuma, New Mexico
Usually my sculptures evolve in a rather spontaneous manner from a creative process not entirely clear to me. They pertain to issues and emotions occupying my thoughts at the time, but the meanings of the dreamlike imagery and associations only become apparent later. The words “Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict” caught my imagination right away. The United World College and the concept of bringing together exceptional students and faculty from all cultures, classes, religions, and political persuasions seemed wonderfully brave and optimistic. Getting to know the students in my blacksmithing class made me all the more enthusiastic about the idea of creating a sculpture that would honor the process taking place at the Montezuma Castle. The events of Sept. 11 and their aftermath made me think of the project with a new sense of urgency.
I wanted the sculpture to amplify the sense of optimism I felt at the campus. I began searching for signs of hope. The ones that kept occupying my thoughts were that we as a species seem to yearn for harmony and long to be a part of something larger than ourselves. These desires resurface in cultures all over the world despite unspeakable injustices and cruelties. I looked for a sculptural way of portraying this hope, one that would use symbols not exclusively associated with any culture or religion.
Throughout the ages geometry has been used in one form or another to symbolize Man’s highest thoughts. I began experimenting with the five regular solids as a jumping off point for the sculpture. They are examples of our early abstract mathematical thought mirroring the elegant organization of multiple seemingly unrelated natural phenomena. I was attracted to the spherical symmetry of the forms. They had the feeling of unity and wholeness on many scales and yet their gemlike crystalline multi-facetedness alluded to preciousness and diversity. I found myself drawn to the icosahedron (twenty equilateral triangles) but the more I worked with it the more convinced I was that I needed more visual complexity.
I wanted the form to engage the viewer in a mandala-like manner. I decided to “star” the icosahedron by adding an additional vertex in the center of each triangle on the same imaginary circumscribing sphere (these 20 new points are the vertices of another regular solid, the dodecahedron). Plato used the 5 regular solids as a basis for a very elegant cosmology set forth in the Timeaus. I have read that Kepler, Ptolemy, and Al-Kindi also attributed cosmic significance to these forms. I was excited to learn that, though named after Plato, the solids themselves were probably known to much earlier cultures--the old Kingdom of Egypt and the Celts.
I was pleased with the geometry of the sculpture but still had the feeling that there was something missing. Other viewpoints will be respected and conflicts constructively engaged, I think, not by any magic formula, but by people passionately connected to the even more magical and unknowable “life force.” Timeless ideals are reinterpreted and carried forward by individual lives. I started out with the idea of supporting the icosahedron on fairly literal yucca plants. I think of them as beacons of optimism in our area. They appear to be merely existing, and then when conditions are right they seize the moment and shoot forth stalks of flamboyant bloom. I wanted to portray them in all phases of bud, blossom, and falling back to earth to start the cycle anew. Working with the forms further, I decided to make the blooms abstract wands of energy and the leaves softer, larger and simpler shapes.
The exuberant blooms send hopes to the breezes. This sculpture, the result of the energies of many people, is a gift celebrating the existence of the Bartos Institute and the United World College in our community.