From Mathematics to Sculpture

Yesterday I went to a lecture at Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) by Dr. George Hart. Michael Cottrell, Professor of Sculpture at FSCJ, who was also our judge at our show at the Jacksonville Fair, had brought Dr. Hart from the Stony Brook University, NY where he is a professor of engineering. He is also a sculptor using mathematics to determine the form of his sculptures.

Dr. Hart brought a lot of 3D printer versions of his sculptures and invited us all to check them out and play with them.

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The 3D printed versions were surprisingly solid and extremely intricate.

Dr. Hart then starting his talk. Note that his sculptures are never far away.

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He was a very animated and passionate speaker. You could see though, that he had a really deep love for advanced mathematics and had to resist at every moment the urge to slip into the complexities of multidimensional solids and the three dimensional “shadows” they cast or the inherent beauty of a twisted rhombic dodecahedron.

It turns out that his “mission” is to get people excited about mathematics and to urge them to incremental advancement by building his sculptures. He shares much of the design work freely on his website, but it’s clear that what he really enjoys is to travel the world and teaching workshops to all levels of students. While the depth of the learning varies, he’s perfectly content having young people build his models and enjoy the fun of construction, but also look at shapes that form and what they can show to working with advance mathematic students where they learn to visualize a specific mathematical concept as they construct the piece.

This YouTube shows an example of one of his sculptures. This one shows the construction process.

He creates his sculptures from all kinds of materials, often prototyping in paper or cardboard and then upgrading to plywood or aluminum. Although some can be cut by hand, he most often relies on a laser cutter to accurately cut the pieces. Since FCSJ didn’t have a laser cutter, he worked with the students using template routed pieces to create this sculpture, which was in the front hall at the Wilson Art Center.

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All the pieces were held together with cable ties.

He also had the students create a piece out of cardboard that could be disassembled. Friend Dorian Eng shows a great deal of enthusiasm as she checks out the sculpture.

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Dorian’s husband Doug, a gifted local photographer, recently bought a CNC router that also has a blade that can cut cardboard. He told me he was excited because he just had a large delivery of cardboard that morning. I can’t what to see where he is going with it.

During Dr. Hart’s presentation it was thrilling seeing all the forms he had created. He creates the mathematical model, knowing that it should go together and then starts the construction journey. Sometimes it’s not so easy to see how all the parts go together. One example he discussed was that it took him six years to figure it out.

I’m very pleased that there are some passionate teachers out there that can really show the benefits of a science education, especially when you bridge it to the arts. STEM to STEAM.

At the show at the University of North Florida that the Northeast Florida Sculptors put on last year, I had seen one piece of 3D printed art. It turned out that it was Michael Cottrell’s. He and I had a discussion that this was really going to add another dimension to sculpture shows and we were both right. I got to see just how much that change could be since they had a show at the gallery in the Wilson Center called “Virtually Solid: Digital Fabrication as Sculpture”.

Many of the entries into the show were 3D printed and they really took my breath away. Here’s a smattering.

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Tareq Mirza – Awakening in stainless steel

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Michael Cottrell – Osseous II in cast iron

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Mary Visser – Reflections SLA 3D print

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Mary Visser – Eve’s Passion SLA 3D print

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Corinne Whitaker – Wynken, Blynken and Oz 3D printed sculpture

A great show and a great lecture. This did nothing to quell my enthusiasm for digital based sculpture. I’ve tried several times to make pieces, but now I’m armed with a few more ideas.

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