If you ask Rebecca Graham, a Cool Ridge, W.Va. native, why she’s studying sculpture at West Virginia University, she’ll tell you it’s because “sculpture is the ‘anything art.’”

It can range in scale from an object that will fit in your hand to an entirely reimagined landscape. It can be permanent or temporary. Materials can range from welded metal to fragile textiles. And, like all art forms, it can lead you to reconsider assumptions.

That was the effect of a recent project in Advanced Sculpture led by Jason Lee, an associate professor in WVU’s School of Art and Design. Called the “Prosthetic Inhibitors Project,” the students were asked to create a piece of wearable art that actually limited the wearer, rather than enhancing their abilities as prosthetics customarily do.

Graham used steel, canvas, expanded metal, embroidery floss, wife, and spray paint to create a beautiful, dragon-inspired body harness that “makes you seem more desirable, but it hinders you in a way,” allowing Graham to comment on concepts of beauty.

Nica Morrison, a criminology major and sculpture minor from Philadelphia, drew on Scottish history for her wooden head cage, reimagining a “scold’s bridle.”

“It was a torture device,” Morrison says. “They would put it on gossips as they were paraded around town.”

Morrison says her white pin version is “less intense” than its metal inspiration, not unlike contemporary patriarchal approaches to silencing women – the pressure is softer, but it’s still happening.

Kari Kindelberger, of Wheeling, W.Va., wanted her black steel structure “too look organic, like it took over you.” It inhibits mobility, especially in the arms, but it has the side effect of improving posture. As Kindelberger was creating the piece, she was imagining the different ways it would read on different clothing, merging with black garments, looking alien against white, or enhancing more elegant outfits.

New Jersey native Nancy Bellai was inspired by a friend’s cats.

“They like to knock things off of counters,” Bellai said, so she combined a steel frame with plush foam and fake fur to transform the wearer into a cat. Except the knocking off of objects became unavoidable rather than playful.

Their interest in the “anything art” came from different places. Morrison loved wood shop in high school, and Kindelberger enjoyed a three-dimensional project in one of her high-school art classes.

Graham and Bellai, like all majors in the School of Art & Design, were exposed to sculpture in their early foundations courses, which introduce students to a wide range of two- and three-dimensional media, helping them find their eventual focus. Even after that choice of focus is made, no medium exists entirely independently. Kindelberger likes to incorporate ceramics into her sculptures.

And, while they’re still figuring out their exact career paths, they’re confident that the skills they’re developing in the sculpture program will prepare them for a wide range of professions. Their studio work teaches them to be creative problem solvers, to made inventive use of available resources, and to help shape the big picture.

“The thing that I emphasize with sculpture students is that, beyond academia, they are learning real-world skills like metal fabrication and wood working,” said Lee. “In addition, the problem-solving skills that they develop as sculptors will enable them to excel in any field that they choose to pursue.”

Recent graduates of WVU’s sculpture program have gone on to pursue advanced degrees at Miami University of Ohio, Alfred University in New York, the University of Florida at Gainesville, and others. Some grads have started their own businesses in screen printing and properties fabrication for the entertainment industry. And one recent graduate, Mike Loop, currently works as preparator for the Art Museum of WVU, helping stage exhibits for the facility.

-WVU-

dw/10/21/15

CONTACT: David Welsh, WVU College of Creative Arts
304.293.3397; David.Welsh@mail.wvu.edu

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