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Kendall Faculty Create Sculptural Desk for UICA

Posted September 7, 2011

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As Kendall students and faculty return to classes this fall, they are undoubtably asking each other, “How was your summer?  What did you do?”

Two faculty members, Sam Blanchard and Bob Marsh, both Assistant Professors at Kendall College of Art and Design,  have a lot to talk about.  They can share that they spent much of their summer welding 15,000 10 inch steel rods together to create a new reception desk for the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids.

Sam spoke enthusiastically about the project when he met me at the brand new high profile facility smack dab in the middle of Grand Rapids.

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The project started last winter when  they met with the Executive Director of UICA and the design team from Via Design to review what the desk needed “to do.”

“They wanted specific height and size.  It had to function not only as the area where a guest is greeted and buys tickets and asks questions.  It is also the sales desk for the retail space,” Sam explains.

“They didn’t want any thing off the shelf.  It had to be creative and new and make an impact,” he continued. “and that’s not surprising given the mission and philosophy of UICA."

The end result--thousands of small steel rods welded together and powder coated white creating a bird’s nest like  texture and pattern.  It looks transparent, but it isn’t.

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Even the shape, starkly angular, is more interesting than the usual straight line front desk.

What is most interesting to me is that they decided to use an English privet fence as an inspiration, creating the feeling one might have coming to a home. Since this building is UICA's new home, it is a lovely and fitting concept.

"We didn't want it to be intimidating. Sometimes the idea of Contemporary Art can be, so we wanted the area where visitors are welcomed to be inviting," Sam says. "We felt the hedge image worked because a hedge is often what welcomes you to a home."

The large slabs of metal used for the actual selling and functional areas are an inspiration of Bob's. He remembers throwing towels on a hedge to dry after a day of swimming as a child. Bob and Sam used large slabs of sheet steel powder coated white to create work stations, meeting the utilitarian needs.

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Will this installation have any application to Kendall?

“Most certainly,” says Sam.  “It is good for our students to see that the faculty are actually practicing artists.  And I'm  for sure going to point out that we used the simplest and most basic form of welding to connect the thousands of rods.  This is a technique taught very early in our program.” 

Is he happy? You bet.

“It feels really great,” says Sam.  “It’s cool to know that it will be here for a long time. Lots of times our work is transient.”

The desk was underwritten by Kendall College of Art and Design and the Louis Padnos Iron and MetalCompany of Holland.

To visit the desk, go to UICA at 2 West Fulton in Grand Rapids.

To listen to the audio guide where Sam Blanchard talks about the desk, dial 616.222.1245 /stop 02

~Susan J. Smith

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Bob Marsh with raw material in the mold.

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