Students to build sculpture with guest artist

September 3, 2009 | Arts, UToday
By Angela Riddel

Ceramics artist Laurie Spencer will be on UT’s Toledo Museum of Art Campus fall semester to work with art students to develop a coil-built clay structure called “Urban Cairn.”

"Toad Hall Habitat" by Laurie Spencer

"Toad Hall Habitat" by Laurie Spencer

On Thursday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m., she will discuss plans for the project in a free, public slideshow presentation in the Center for the Visual Arts Haigh Auditorium.

“Urban Cairn” will be built in the courtyard of the UT Center for Sculptural Studies building at 535 Oakwood Ave., across from the Center for the Visual Arts. The anticipated firing dates are Friday, Oct. 16, through Wednesday, Oct. 21. Prior to that, Spencer and the students will construct a fiberglass kiln around the structure.

“Urban Cairn” derives its name from its form. Cairns are conical structures that often served as markers in a number of ancient cultures. They can vary greatly in size and style, depending on materials and purpose. “Urban Cairn” will be roughly 7 to 8 feet tall and, when complete, will allow visitors to stand within it and experience its unique acoustical features as well.

“Sounds resonate in a wonderful way inside the domes, and particular tones will vibrate within your body when you talk or hum. It is a warm feeling of being enveloped by the sounds,” Spencer said.

Spencer, of Tulsa, Okla., has exhibited throughout the world. She teaches ceramics at Holland Hall, a liberal arts and college preparatory school in Tulsa.

Tom Lingeman, UT professor of art and coordinator of the “Urban Cairn” project, said, “We invited Laurie Spencer because we felt her work would involve the greatest number of students and would enhance the beauty of the courtyard environment. At the same time, the work will contrast visually with the surrounding urban area.”

Some may remember that Spencer created a similar structure titled “Phoenix Cairn” on the grounds of the Toledo Botanical Gardens in 1989. It is still in the park and can be found near the entrance in the shade garden.

“I see the domes as a spiritual space. They create an atmosphere of quiet contemplation,” Spencer said.

The exact size and shape of the “Urban Cairn” dome ultimately takes will depend on a variety of factors. Spencer will provide the initial design and demonstrate construction techniques to the students. But it is the students who will build the structure, adding their own collective creative spark as they go.

The structure is built by stacking 3- to 4-foot sections of clay, rolled into rope-like shapes. After that, the clay is allowed to dry and then the structure will be fired in a kiln built onsite around the piece itself. Under the supervision of Spencer, the students also will build the fiberglass kiln.

UT Art Department Chair Debra Davis said the experience will be tremendous for the students.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students and the general public,” she said. “Working side by side with an artist of this caliber, the students will gain hands-on experience related to the construction of a monumental ceramic sculpture, as well as gain an understanding of the complexities of planning and creating a large public artwork.”

The public is invited to observe the construction process and the firing of the cairn.

In addition, there will be an exhibit of Spencer’s work in the Grey Gallery & Sculpture Garden at the Center for Sculptural Studies. The exhibit, “Laurie Spencer: The Urban Cairn Project,” will run from Friday, Sept. 4, through Sunday, Oct. 18. It will include photographs, designs and elements connected with the project.

Spencer will be on hand for a reception Friday, Oct. 16, from 7 to 10 p.m. The reception, also held at the Grey Gallery, will coincide with the conclusion of the project and the firing of the finished piece, as well as the autumn meet-and-greet event sponsored by the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.

The “Urban Cairn” project was made possible by a grant from The University of Toledo Office of the Provost.

“We felt very fortunate to have funding from The University of Toledo in the form of a Strategic Enhancement Award. It allows us to greatly enrich our University curriculum,” said Lingeman, who received the grant.

Visitors can view the progress of “Urban Cairn” throughout the semester. There is no charge; however, those interested in seeing the exhibit or the construction of the sculpture should contact the Department of Art prior to coming by calling 419.530.8300.

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