April 8, 2016  

Did You Know?: Fire sculpture at Purdue

Fire sculpture

Craig Hartenberger (left), assistant to ceramic artist Nina Hole, and Colby Charpentier, project assistant, work on the fire sculpture being constructed outside Pao Hall on Purdue's West Lafayette campus. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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Ceramic artist Nina Hole's final fire sculpture is being constructed outside Pao Hall on Purdue's West Lafayette campus. The project started March 22 and will continue daily until Thursday (April 14).

The life-size clay structure will then be fired in place over 60 hours April 14-16. Hole died in February,  and the Purdue commission is her final design.

"Nina created large-scale sculptures internationally for over 20 years," says Sigrid Zahner, associate professor of fine arts in the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. "She perfected a spectacular outdoor firing technique that allowed her to transform raw clay into a finished piece entirely in place. The site-specific monumental sculpture will attract the campus community to Pao Hall over the next month, including the opportunity to witness the firing. It is an experience like no other." 

Hole, a Danish artist, created similar art installations internationally, including Germany, Japan, Turkey, Brazil, Wales, Mexico, Hungary, Denmark, Greece, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, and the United States. In the U.S., she served residencies in Minnesota and North Carolina.

The Florence H. Lonsford committee organized and provided funding for Hole's commission. Hole's assistants, Craig Hartenberger and Renata Cassiano, are working with Purdue student volunteers to build and then wrap the sculpture with an insulating blanket before the firing. The firing will use seasoned split cedar inserted through ports at the base of the sculpture and into the center of the sculpture. The fire is contained inside the sculpture. At the completion of the firing period, the blanket is removed, salt and sawdust is thrown onto the surface, the cooling process begins and the piece is complete.

"Seeing the progress from day to day is satisfying. It is easy for me to get caught up in the building process, so periodically I like to take a step back," Hartenberger says. "That’s when I fully see how quickly it is evolving. I definitely think it’s rewarding to see familiar faces stop by several times over the course of two or three days. That’s when we hear comments about the progression. Observers organically start to take ownership of the piece once they see it growing and evolving. The process is fascinating to watch. I encourage everyone to come back. Seeing it once isn’t enough."

An unveiling is scheduled for approximately 9:30 p.m. April 16.

Artists will be erecting the sculpture until 6 p.m. daily, and spectators are welcome to watch. Street parking with two-hour limits is available around Pao Hall, and campus lots near the hall require parking stickers until 5 p.m., but not after that. 

Writer: John Hughey, 765-494-2432, hugheyj@purdue.edu 

Contact: Liz Erlewine, Gallery coordinator, Patti and Rusty Rueff Galleries, 765-496-2958, eerlewin@purdue.edu  

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