June 11, 2006

Sculptor creates 'Momentum' for engineering college

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Murphysboro sculptor John Medwedeff hopes his most recent work, "Momentum," enhances the experience of engineering students at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Engineers think of "moment" as a "tendency or measure of tendency it takes to make something move," Medwedeff said.Installation of the striking blue sculpture, featuring forged and fabricated steel, took place last month outside the north entrance to the College of Engineering. Interconnected, spiraling steel plates comprised of one-quarter, one-half and one-inch steel rise from a central axis to give visual movement to the whole piece.

"I thought this would be very appropriate for a group of engineers; sort of challenge their notion of structures, because engineers frequently are building square boxes -- things with standard cross-sections and materials," he said. "I sort of turned that upside down. I'm trying to challenge engineering students a little to think about structures in a way I think they might not ordinarily think of, as well as create a dynamic, energetic piece for the campus."

College Dean George M. Swisher describes the sculpture as "very appropriate" in terms of engineering.

"There are a lot of sweeps where you think of momentum," he said. "We are really delighted. I have heard nothing but really great comments from faculty, staff and students."

Campus beautification is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Funding for the project came from the Illinois Capital Development Board's Arts-in-Architecture program. The state sets aside one-half of one percent of any construction budget on CDB-built facilities to buy art for buildings by artists who live in the state. The funds for this project came from construction of the Building E annex that connected separate engineering buildings.

"We wanted something outside, not inside," said Swisher. "You really need one dramatic thing."

A committee comprised of Plant and Service Operations staff and faculty and staff from the college initially looked at work from about 40 different artists. After narrowing the field to about six or seven finalists, the committee selected Medwedeff. It was a bonus when members learned he is from Murphysboro, and earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in fine arts from SIUC.

"We had no idea, except that he was an Illinois artist," said Swisher.

Medwedeff, who comes to sculpture from a blacksmithing background, has been producing sculpture, site-specific architectural ironwork and furniture for 20 years. Because each piece is specific and each site unique, Medwedeff said he looks at variables including surrounding geography and existing architecture use in patterning his sculptures.

The entire project, from design selection to finished product, took about a year, Medwedeff said. Construction time on the sculpture was about three or four months.

Anchoring the sculpture are eight, one-inch stainless steel bolts encased by about seven feet of concrete. Medwedeff said there are no superfluous parts.

"Every component really is involved in the structure of the piece," he said.

A Medwedeff sculpture also graces a second floor wall of the Communications Building.

Working at this larger scale, however, provides little room for error, so Medwedeff said he puts a lot of work into each piece of the design and planning before building the sculpture.

"If you only get to step up to the plate every once in a while you want to make sure that you are going to be proud of what you have done when it is over," he said.

"There are a lot of things that I am excited about with this piece, and how it looks relevant to the site," he said. "I feel that we were really successful.

"It is also fun to do a project that is basically in your hometown, and being an alumni of the University makes it nice," said Medwedeff.