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Ascend The Climber

Posted by Chris Wray on Jun 23, 2010 in architecture and urban spaces, art, photography

The Climber

If you’re traveling in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area, be sure to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Housed in the historic Monroe School building (a great example of Classical Revival architecture), the Children’s Museum features three floors of incredible sensory and motor stimulation. Their latest installation, dubbed The Climber, is a 37-foot high, 50-ton conglomeration of structural steel, fiberglass, wood, stainless steel aircraft cable, and found objects. My kids loved this wholly whimsical and totally hands- (and feet-) on installation. “Now this is the ultimate treehouse,” enthusiastically commented my son before dashing up one of its numerous gangways.

Various perches are cantilevered throughout the structure that allow visitors to climb into or onto, including wacky themed objects:

• Flying Bathtub
• Dream Boat
• Roof Top
• Fish Walk
• Recycled Rocket

The structure is thoughtfully constructed with a third-floor observation deck that permits visitors with limited mobility (or just too pooped to continue climbing) to observe the multi-level terrain of The Climber.

Clamber, balance, maneuver and discover — The Climber will engage your mind and muscles! Don’t miss it.

— Photos were taken with iPhone 3GS camera and Pro HDR app.

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Bronze Age is alive and well at Shidoni

Posted by Chris Wray on Nov 25, 2009 in art

Lost wax is not a lost art at the Shidoni Foundry near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nestled in the Rio Tesuque Valley, among former apple orchards and majestic cottonwood tress, the Shidoni bronze art foundry is known around the world for its superb monumental bronze craftsmanship. Working artists who comprise Shidoni’s staff specialize in large scale work, as well as smaller one-of-a-kind casts and recast editions.

I had the pleasure of touring Shidoni’s 14,000 square foot facility during an autumn Colorado College reunion lead by anthropology professor emeritus Dr. Marianne Stoller. I invite you to enjoy the following photo and video blog, which document the labor intensive, multi-faceted process of lost wax bronze casting.

The final video in this post is courtesy of New Mexico PBS station KNME. This excerpted documentary demonstrates Shidoni’s innovative techniques and application of cutting edge material science during the complex process of casting metals. The video also features renown American sculptor Allan Houser, but fails to identify a woman sculptor, whom I believe is Glenna Goodacre, the well-known artist who designed the obverse of the Sacagawea dollar. I welcome your comments and correction if I’ve misidentified the interviewee.

Click to enlarge photos.

Model: large works like this use an inner foam structure to maintain the structural integrity of the clay or wax model.

Model: large works like this use an inner foam structure to maintain the structural integrity of the clay or wax model.

Latex mold: layers of latex are applied to the full-size sculpture mold.

Latex mold: layers of latex are applied to the full-size sculpture mold.

Mold-making: careful planning is required to determine how segments of a large sculpture will be disassembled and reconstructed.

Mold-making: careful planning is required to determine how segments of a large sculpture will be disassembled and reconstructed.

Wax casting: the flexible latex mold is held rigid in a plaster case and is now ready for wax casting.

Wax casting: the flexible latex mold is held rigid in a plaster case and is now ready for wax casting.

Wax cast: the wax cast is removed from the mold and hand-finished by a trained artisan. This step is the most critical in achieving the sculpture's original perfection.

Wax cast: the wax cast is removed from the mold and hand-finished by a trained artisan. This step is the most critical in achieving the sculpture

Investment: The wax cast is coated with many layers of liquid refractory ceramic, called an investment. The investment cures for several days.

Investment: The wax cast is coated with many layers of liquid refractory ceramic, called an investment. The investment cures for several days.

Burn-out: The wax cast inside the investment is fired in a kiln. This process bakes the investment shell and eliminates the wax, leaving a cavity for the bronze casting.

Burn-out: The wax cast inside the investment is fired in a kiln. This process bakes the investment shell and eliminates the wax, leaving a cavity for the bronze casting.

Patina: The finished bronze is treated with chemicals and heated with a flame. This gives the sculpture the desired color according to the artist's specifications.

Patina: The finished bronze is treated with chemicals and heated with a flame. This gives the sculpture the desired color according to the artist's specifications.

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Three pioneers in American photography

Posted by Chris Wray on Jul 13, 2009 in art

The three photographers Harry Callahan, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer irrevocably charted a new course in photography during the mid-twentieth century. Collectively, these photographers pushed classical photography beyond its traditional representational boundaries to one of pure abstraction and metaphor. I had the pleasure of recently seeing At the Crossroads of American Photography: Callahan, Siskind, Sommer, a featured exhibition at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (SMoCA). According to SMoCA, this is the first full comparative exhibition of these three pioneers. All self-taught, Callahan, Siskind, and Sommer elevated photography to fine art, using seminal techniques and creative compositions to achieve remarkably fine art.

Paracelsus, © Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation

Paracelsus, © Frederick and Frances Sommer Foundation

I found the exhibition, consisting of some 150 high quality prints, to be an intimate and meditative experience. While many of the works I had seen reproduced in art history books, several were heretofore unseen; on loan from private collections. A favorite work of my wife and mine is entitled Paracelsus. This gelatin silver print was created without a camera, using a synthetic negative. Listen to a detailed audio description of Paracelsus from the Norton Simon Museum.

At the Crossroads of American Photography: Callahan, Siskind, Sommer had been held over through August 9, 2009. If you’re in the Scottsdale area, this show is well worth the price of admission. A large format catalogue of beautiful reproductions is available from the SMoCA Store.

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Railyard Santa Fe: rebirth of a vibrant district

Posted by Chris Wray on May 30, 2009 in architecture and urban spaces

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With the rapid decline of railroad transportation in the early ‘80s, rail districts throughout the U.S. slid into urban decay. The rail yards and adjacent neighborhoods of Santa Fe, New Mexico were declared a blighted area in 1987, characterized by property abandonment, unemployment, crime, and barren urban landscapes.

Fast-forward twenty years and you will see the same urban geography has been redefined by a vibrant, revitalized community. The design process involved hundreds of participants: citizens, land planners, architects, and city council members. The resulting redevelopment—dubbed The Railyard Santa Fe—incorporates an eclectic mix of performing art venues, restaurants, retail, art studios and galleries, a permanent structure for Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, and 13 acres of open space including a park, plaza, and pedestrian promenade.

During my recent trip to Santa Fe, I visited The Railyard and was surprised how well the redevelopment project integrates with the surrounding urban and natural landscape. The hard-edged, rugged look of the buildings reflects the city’s intention to preserve the industrial feel of the original rail complex. The shinny corrugated metal surfaces, exposed hardware, and strong rectilinear walls unexpectedly harmonize with the prevailing adobe architecture.

The multi-use Railyard Park is a real gem, with its eco-friendly, drought-resistant garden with outdoor performance and picnic areas, playground, and walking-biking trails. Original iron rails and rusted rail car wheels are cleverly integrated into the linear walkways and gardens.

The Railyard marks its one-year anniversary this September. Enjoy my picture gallery (click on the water tower image) and let me hear your comments. For more information on The Railyard, visit www.railyardsantafe.com.

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Motion in repose: sculpture revisited

Posted by Chris Wray on May 21, 2009 in art

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I’m revisiting some early wooden sculptures I built. More accurately these works are assemblages, as they incorporate found objects (rock and rope) along with wooden forms that I’ve created.

My work reflects a fascination with physical properties: weight, mass, force, and gravity. I feel mechanical devices best demonstrate the qualities of motion because they embody the principles of physics. I was also inspired by the invention drawings of Leonardo da Vinci.

What does it all mean? Well, as a child I spent hours pulling apart old watches, clocks, electric motors and the like in an effort to understand how they worked. This inquisitiveness gave way to understanding and further curiosity as I examined the contraptions, their connections, articulations, and transference of forces. It is this phenomena of intrigue that I want to convey in my artwork. More specifically, my assemblages are a celebration of human curiosity, exploration, and invention.

I feel that my wooden sculptures bridge the gap between design, art, and science. Although the work is subjective, it nonetheless addresses universal experience of intrigue. Have a look at the gallery of images and let me know what you think.

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The Kelsey Excelsior: A Brief Ode to the Letterpress & Memory of James Trissel

Posted by Chris Wray on May 4, 2009 in essays

The Kelsey letterpress represents a last modern vestige of early printing technology. Based on Gutenberg’sicon_external_link movable type invention of the fifteenth century, the letterpress uses individually cast, reusable letters set together letter-by-letter, word-by-word to form blocks of text that are pressed onto wet paper. With great patience and skill, the letterpress page can become a work of beauty—combining the visual and literary arts.

Kelsey Excelsior 5 x 8 tabletop letterpress

Kelsey Excelsior 5 x 8 tabletop letterpress

As hobbyists, my parents purchased a Kelsey Excelsior 5×8 tabletop letterpress during the late 1950s. Together they created personalized stationery, greeting cards, and even my birth announcement. These handmade ephemera represented the state-of-the-art in personal desktop publishing during the mid-twentieth century.

I developed my appreciation for the letterpress and book arts during my freshman year at Colorado College. I spent many hours hand setting type for poetry broadsides and limited edition books under the guidance of Jim Trissel, founder and proprietor of the Press at Colorado College from 1977 until his death in 1999.

Today, as a marketing manager for a hi-tech company, I am consumed with internet communications: search optimization, web analytics, and the obsession for “sticky” web content—topics seemingly far afield from the aesthetics and tactile beauty of the letterpress. Yet Jim’s mentoring taught me that the art of the letterpress is not something to be rushed. It is carefully planned and executed in a deliberate and precise manner. Fine letterpress work is as much science as it is art. Jim instilled in me a sensibility for good typography and an understanding of a well-balanced page—skills that I invoke daily as a professional designer.

While the pervasiveness of electronic communication calls into question the future of the printed word, I am certain the letterpress arts will endure for they educate and inspire. They are art forms born of a guild tradition that brought forth matchless beauty from press beds beaded in sweat and perfumed by mineral spirits.

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