Monday, September 22, 2014

Shifting from Steel to Aluminum

Crucible_steel_button By Jlahorn
I chose to use steel for my sculptures for the Electra C. Doren library. But now they will be made from aluminum. Here's how I got there:

Aluminium_bar_surface_etched - by Heinrich Pniok  

I had two concerns and two goals when picking the metal. The concerns were theft, and the cost/size tradeoff. The goals were aesthetics and relevance.

Theft: Since this is an outdoor sculpture I didn't want to create a sculpture that was attractive to theft. The panels are big (about 2 feet by 4 feet) but not so big that their size would deter theft. At that size they look cartable (if you could get them out of the fence). So I didn't want to use copper, bronze, or brass since I was concerned that the value of those metals would be an invitation to theft. If I use steel, and leave it unpainted, it looks unattractive to steal. It's not worth the effort to steal it for scrap metal.

Cost / size tradeoff: The Dayton Metro Library set a budget for this project in the ReImagining Works initiative. As I chose metals I knew that the base costs are widely different. As the cost of the metal choice goes up the number of panels or the panel sizes I could create would go down. I felt that there needed to be a significant number of sculptures to complement the size of the reading terrace. I thought that one panel out of an expensive metal would not be sufficient - better to have more panels of a less-expensive metal.

Aesthetics: I wanted to use a metal that would look appropriate for the setting and steal would work well with the earthy-colored pavers, red brick of the library, and a dark colored fence. It would age well starting off bright and patina over time to a strong warm color. Plus it would not take much maintenance other than soft cleaning.

Relevance: Steel fits in with Dayton's manufacturing history perfectly. And it worked with the industrial theme of the Sheeler painting I used as inspiration.

However, in working with the Dayton Metro Library, their architects, construction company, fence installer, and fence fabricator an overriding concern became obvious. The library would get a 30-year warranty for the fence from their fence fabricator if that company was the one who fabricated and integrated my sculptures into the fence. I couldn't easily match that using my fabricator and negotiate a similar warranty with the other companies to join in a warranty - not in the time or budget allocated to me. As long as I could have artistic control and quality assurance on the fabrication it was the better decision to go with their fabricator.

Somewhere along the way as part of design changes the fence went from being a steel fence to being an aluminum fence. Plus when we considered how the panels would be attached we settled on welding. Since we're welding we didn't want to be joining dissimilar metals by welding a steel sculpture into an aluminum fence. When two dissimilar metals are connected they create an electro-chemical reaction which causes one of the metals to corrode faster. Steel and aluminum in combination outdoors are highly prone to corrosion.

So given the concerns about corrosion of dissimilar metals and the 30 year warranty we switched to making the panels out of aluminum. We lost the strong relevance to Dayton but aesthetically I've looked at the aluminum and, depending upon the finish that we use, it should be aesthetically pleasing. Cost and size still have to be worked out but they should be close. And aluminum will be no more tempting to steal than steel.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sculptural Vision and Storytelling

The sculptures I'm creating for the ReImagining Works project for the Electra C. Doren library are a site-specific sculpture meant to become part of the library experience. I wanted to propose something that will be an integrated part of the library's reading terrace which was not built at the time of my proposal.

I could imagine the reading terrace from the architectural drawings and extend this vision to include my sculptures. I wanted the art review board reading the proposal to experience that vision and not just see sketches and read descriptions of what I was proposing to build.

I decided that telling a story would be the best approach. I thought that if I could tell a story then the people reading it could feel it in addition to seeing the sketches. I wanted them to imagine they were using the reading terrace and my sculptures were part of their story.

Here is what I included as a descriptive vision in my proposal:
"As you sit on the E.C. Doren library reading terrace, the North Dayton neighborhood you are sitting in ties you to Dayton’s industrial traditions. And so do your immediate surroundings. You are encircled by new sculptural images that unite you with that history.

To your left the sunlight pierces through an image of the heroic Memorial Hall, to your right the stalwart Reibold building reflects the setting sun, and another view gives you glimpses of the confident Dayton Daily News building. Everywhere you look around the terrace fence other inspirations are there as well. And behind you is the Electra C. Doren library, itself part of that history, restored and revitalized. 

These images are silhouette steel cutout sculptures built as an integral part of the fencing rail that borders the reading terrace, and give your library experience a sense of place. They are designed to invite you to contemplate their patterns and inspire you to be part of Dayton’s industrial spirit. Their vibrant reflections, solidity and playfulness are letting you know that the Dayton spirit of making things is still alive. "

Now that I'm reading this and imagining that setting sun I'm not sure I got it's orientation to the panels correct. Let me check out the library on Google Maps ...
Photo Credit: Google Maps
OK I got it wrong. It won't be the setting sun but the daytime southern exposure that will fall on most of the panels. The setting sun will fall on the library wall behind the terrace. I also didn't take into account what seasons of the year library patrons will actually be sitting outside reading! :^) 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Steel sculpture decisions - the magpie response

I chose to use to use sheets of #304 stainless steel alloy for my sculptures at the Electra C. Doren library. This is a steel you and I see everyday in auto trim, outdoor electrical enclosures, storage tanks, and other items you pass each day without thinking; "I wonder what that's made of?" This metal is designed for outdoor use. It will not easily rust or corrode. It is the same alloy used in the Gateway Arch in St. Louis

Photo Credit: Gateway arch
2001 Rick Dikeman
I want to use the steel in the raw state with a brushed surface. The steel will start off a shiny silver and patina over time into a deep earthy metallic gray-silver. Once the patina has settled the sculptures will be stable for many, many years. The sculptures will not require significant maintenance in this raw state. Periodic cleaning will not negatively impact them. 

I had to be practical about durability, weight, and costs. I selected steel sheets of 1/8 of an inch thick. This will be solid enough for durability and inflexible enough for fencing. At this size it won't burden the structure with weight. A panel two and a half feet by four feet will weigh approximately 57 pounds before it is cut. Given that the pattern of each panel will be different, their weights will be different. I approximate that the finished panels will weigh between 30 and 40 pounds each. This should be fine for incorporation into the fence sections. 

Aesthetically I want the sculptures to be noticeable and cause people to have the magpie response; "Oooh look - shiny metal!" and be compelled to take a closer look. It is possible to paint the metal or to apply typical fencing coatings, but I would rather not. I believe that the raw steel is the appropriate aesthetic fitting with the industrial Dayton theme. I want there to be a contrast between the fence, the environment of the terrace, the surroundings, and the piece itself.  I want it to have distinguishable boundaries and not be seen as an extension of the fence, but rather that the fence is a frame for the sculpture. 

I will work with the architects and the fence installers to see the materials that will be used for the walls, pavers, and fencing to see if the raw steel will work aesthetically with the surroundings. 

After discussing options with my friend, master sculptor Jim Mills of Sculpturecast, if raw steel does not work aesthetically with the other elements we can reduce the painting maintenance by using Imron paint by DuPont which is the same paint used on jet planes and will last without re-coating for 20+ years. Or we can choose one of the fence coatings that has similar durability. Ordinary exterior house paint will also work but that is not a good option since it would need to be repainted more frequently.