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My interest in brick stems from time I spent at Wolverhampton, a town in England's decaying industrial heartland, where I studied ceramics. I wanted to make clay sculpture that was relevant to my surroundings. The industrial brick wasteland fascinated me, especially as the old buildings and canal walkways, all brick, were crumbling and going back to the natural landscape. Art should resonate with a wide audience, without compromising artistic integrity. The medium of brick has the ability to speak to us all. Spring Valley Station I was commissioned by Dallas Area Rapid Transit to build a sculpture that expresses a conceptual entryway to Spring Valley Station. It is located in the town of Richardson, Texas, once a small rural community, the center of which is still discernible, but has since been incorporated into the metropolitan area of Dallas. The sculpture consist of two irregularly formed engaged columns, approximately 10 feet tall and ranging from one foot at the narrowest point to three feet at the widest, at the base. The undulating earth formations work around the columns, so that they actually emerge from the earth. They appear to be growing and yet the straight wall sections also form a boundary marker which relates to the columns at the pedestrian entrance to the station. The columns comprise individual sections: The top section represents a cornucopia, displaying a well defined spiral at its base; the flat side of each column, a feint anthropomorphic figure, is etched to denote the presence of the previous occupants of the town. Upon getting the go ahead to start, the "green" bricks (bricks in the wet clay state) were delivered to the studio where they were carved. These bricks are soft enough to carve yet hold their shape when stacked. For rough carving I use a series of spackling knives; to get a more refined form I use a tool made from tin packing case strapping. The bricks are then scraped down with various rasps, and finally given a really smooth finish with a metal rib, used in ceramics. The bricks for the top of each column were wetted down till soft enough for me to push my hands deep into the wet brick. After forming the sculpture, each brick was coded. From there they were taken to Omaha Clay Works and fired to cone #6, approximately 2,200 degrees, making them highly durable and water resistant. They were then delivered to the site. On a rainy day in October we began by removing the plant material in the vicinity of the work site. We then dug two holes, four feet apart, measuring two feet deep by four feet square. Rebar was arranged in the hole and concrete poured. The sculptures arrived in three crates and we spent a day arranging them so they would be easy to assemble. Three days after pouring the concrete, we began assembling the columns. The mortar was colored brown with iron oxide to create an integrated effect. As the sculptures grew taller they were filled with grout and more sections of rebar were added, making sure that there was always a two-foot overlap with the previous section. At the close of each long day we took time to survey our handiwork, sometimes very striking in the sunset. After two weeks' time and three weeks' worth of work, we were finally finished. A day was spent cleaning the columns with acid and later replacing the soil and plants around the sculptures. Final photographs were taken and good-byes said to the many people who had helped us with any minor but still annoying difficulties we had had, such as access to water and disposing of excess earth. The Tide Clock The Community Redevelopment Agency of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, commissioned me to create a Tide Clock sculpture for Flaglar Avenue, the main street leading to the ocean. It was to be positioned just a couple of hundred yards from the ocean front, and so had to be very durable to withstand the harsh marine conditions and to protect the mechanisms of the two clock faces. There are four straight sections of the sculpture including the clock itself. There are also two holes cut through these carved "pebbles." These holes are smoothed to allow rainwater to pass through, leaving the marks of time on the brick. The placement of a sculptural brick pillar in this location relates to the existing features of the area, such as the brick sidewalks and all the vertical elements--trees, arbors and the gazebo. The undulating brick base of the pillar connects to the brick sidewalk and forms a conceptual link between the geometric manufactured world and the swelling ocean. As part of the design process I submitted a computer generated image, giving an idea of how the completed sculpture would look on site. This is a handy tool to express a rough estimation of how an object looks in the actual surroundings, but it's interesting to see how it compares with the finished product. The brick used is high fired and will withstand adverse conditions. The two clock faces were etched into Plexiglas. They are held in place by two brass frames; a gasket seals the clock face but also allows it to breathe so condensation does not build up. During the carving I hollowed out two of the bricks and made a hole so the clock mechanisms are accommodated and protected. Access to the mechanisms is gained via a brass plate on the top of the clock; this is slightly domed to allow water to run off. I carved the sculpture in my studio and fired it in Omaha, as with the previously mentioned project. One difference was that it was mortared together in four sections and reinforced on the inside with a layer of nonshrink grout, then shipped to the site. It was done this way because the structure was basically a fairly simple column that could be quickly assembled on site. The basic structure was put up in one day with the aid of two sections of scaffolding and a chain fall. We filled it with more nonshrink grout and epoxy coated rebar to absolutely ensure against rust in the future. The frames were secured to the brick with brass bolts, fixed into holes with epoxy. Despite the punishing storms of the Eastern Florida coast, I am assured that the Tide Clock still gives residents and visitors of New Smyrna Beach accurate tidal information. For more imformation visit www.michaelmorgan.net.

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November 22, 2019, 12:57 pm PDT

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