Flowing steel, glowing glass — together at last

February 4, 2011 | Arts, UToday
By Cynthia Nowak



Tom Lingeman, left, Jason Arbogast and Mary Ellen Graham posed for a photo with pieces of their sculpture.

Tom Lingeman, left, Jason Arbogast and Mary Ellen Graham posed for a photo with pieces of their sculpture.

When three UT alumni left an 11-foot-high calling card in the lobby of Ohio State University’s JamesCare Comprehensive Breast Center, the message it carried was clear: Relax, refresh, regenerate.

The intricate work of stainless steel and glass is the result of an artistic collaboration between sculptor Tom Lingeman, UT professor of art, who is a member of the UT class of ’72 and ’79 for respective bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education; nationally known glass artist Mary Ellen Graham, who took her UT bachelor of education degree in 1981 and her master of liberal studies in 2000; and ace welder Jason Arbogast, a Toledo sculptor whose bachelor of art degree was completed at UT in 1999.

From the first, Lingeman and Graham envisioned an immediacy between art and audience. “We planned highly crafted, organic forms that would flow freely,” said Lingeman, who forged the sculpture’s flowing steel ribbons.

“It was conceived as a piece that people see when they come into the medical facility,” added Graham, whose hand-blown glass groupings adorn the steel. “The sculpture is something people can lose themselves in, maybe end up feeling a little better. We wanted the work of art to be uplifting and to assist in patients’ recovery.”

The completed work, as yet untitled, was installed in Ohio State University’s JamesCare Comprehensive Breast Center last month.

The completed work, as yet untitled, was installed in Ohio State University’s JamesCare Comprehensive Breast Center last month.

She created the free-form glass in soft, earthy hues to match the existing color scheme in the care center, she said.

Once Columbus-area Andrews Architects Inc. awarded the project to her and Lingeman — from a field of six contenders — the two longtime artists initiated construction of a model at the University’s Center for Sculptural Studies, matching the dimensions of the work’s final home. That, they explained, would ensure a perfect fit when the piece was assembled in Columbus.

One more thing Lingeman wanted to do, he said, was to bring in Arbogast to handle the delicate job of welding the curving steel strips together. “Jason is a sculptor in his own right,” he said. “His weldings are what hold everything together. The steel pieces may look like independent ribbons floating in space, but they’re all permanently connected.“

Added Arbogast with a grin, “When you’re working with something 11 feet tall, you need more than two hands. I think that’s why Tom pulled me into it.”

All three expressed deep satisfaction with the final product. “All of us have brought a lot to the party,” Graham said.

Arbogast agreed, saying, “Being able to visualize the final product at the beginning and reaching it is always very gratifying.”

Lingeman, though, may have had the final word when he said, “I’m pleased that we were all able to work so well together!”

The sculpture was installed in Columbus Jan. 16. It remains untitled, though the team is considering suggestions from facility staff, doctors and patients before its official dedication in April.