AUSTIN CHADDERDON’S T-R PHOTO – In the photo, Kansas artist Stephen Johnson designed the “Scherzo” sculpture in front of the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center today. Johnson has a large portfolio of art and has designed public art pieces from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.
Marshalltown’s public art portfolio has grown again with the delivery and installation of the new “Scherzo” sculpture, which is now in front of the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center.
The large, intricate structure, designed by Kansas artist Stephen Johnson, was shipped in installments last week and built by Mike Riggs, owner of Riggs Fabrication in Lawrence, Can. Johnson was the project’s creative auditor, but Riggs used his engineering background to determine how the idea works structurally.
When he started gathering ideas for sculpture, Johnson knew he had to have some kind of musicality to work at the performing arts center.
“He celebrates musical notation in an abstract way, and that’s really my behavior, it’s about taking an idea of musical forms, bass key or sol key, and musical notation and other forms. Twist and turn and abstract put them in interesting and playful ways, ”Johnson said.
He was also inspired by “Music is …”, a children’s book written by Johnson where he illustrated 10 different music genres. He said the book was a journey that took shape and abstraction, praising different genres of music and exploring how to summarize them so that everyone could enjoy them, and compared that to the concept of ‘Scherzo’.
SUSANNA MEYER’S T-R PHOTO – Amber Danielson, director of the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance, and artist Stephen Johnson talk about the construction of the “Scherzo” sculpture as they watch the cardboard model of the piece.
“This speaks to the nature of public art,” Johnson said. “Children would like and understand it, art critics, the general public and those who visit. Visitors hope to see something that brings them all a little joy and they get the concept. ”
Colorful musical notes can be seen around the entire sculpture, depicting music played at the center of the performing arts, and Johnson also added three stylized mouths at the top to celebrate the spoken word, such as theater or vocal groups.
While the plan was being developed, he began building paper models, cutting and moving parts as needed, and of course collaborating with Riggs to ensure that the idea was structurally feasible.
After going back and forth between Johnson and Riggs ’piece, Johnson finally said he was“ out of the way, ”so Riggs could make the sculpture. The collaboration between them was remarkable for Johnson, and he said working with the community is one of the favorites of public art.
“For me, public art is collaboration. I’m not alone, alone, doing everything, and I love that aspect, so there are a lot of people involved, ”he said.
SUSANNA MEYER’S T-R PHOTO – Landon Harness, left, and Mike Riggs, right, drive the first piece of the “Scherzo” sculpture in front of the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center. Although Stephen Johnson has the artistic intelligence behind the sculpture, he was manufactured by Riggs — owner of Riggs Fabrication Lawrence Can. — Using his engineering experience.
Even as they were building the sculpture on Monday, Johnson said there was an aspect of improvisation in deciding exactly where to place the pieces and where to anchor them.
“The installation is like music, in a sense, or music chairs. Moving things, trying to balance the right: the touch, where they are located, the negative space, the playfulness of it, until we decided they really had to go, ”Johnson said.
Riggs, who manufactured all the parts for ‘Scherzo’, was helping to assemble it along with several other people who were driving the installation. He’s a manufacturing engineer by education, but finding the same products over and over again seemed pretty boring. So he started working on public art and other artistic pieces.
He said the hardest part of making “Scherzo” was determining how each piece would work, working only from the paper and cardboard pattern provided by Johnson.
“I got that 12-inch cardboard model and I had to turn it into a 17-foot-tall structure that could withstand weight and be strong in structure and still look good,” Riggs said.
Riggs redirected the individual parts into a computer-aided design software and modified some aspects of the sculpture that would not be worth manufacturing before inserting it into his CNC plasma cutter and cutting the flat shapes.
After several months of work, the pieces were sent to a powder coating company for painting. Once they were ready to go, all they needed to do was move from Kansas to Iowa and build.
Amber Danielson, director of the Marshall County Arts and Culture Alliance, was thrilled to have the sculpture installed and to see the peak of the hard work of recent years.
“I feel like the piece is even better personally,” he said. “Images don’t do him justice. The model did not do him justice. This piece is outstanding and so unique and very lively. It almost feels like that piece should always be there, and it’s hard — even if it’s only for a few days — to imagine that space without it. ”
Danielson said he was excited to see Marshalltown High School students see the growth of public art in the community and on their campus, and can’t wait for community members to see the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center themselves.
This sculpture was made possible through hard work and fundraising by the Marshalltown Auditorium Foundation Partnership Fund, the Marshalltown Community School District and the Arts and Culture Alliance.
Once the sculpture was finished, Johnson toured Marshalltown throughout the week and made a special appearance at the Marshalltown Public Library’s storytelling class on Wednesday, where he read some of the children’s books he had written. He also met and said goodbye afterwards.
On Thursday, from 17:00 to 19:00, there will be a demonstration of the sculpture. At the Marshalltown Performing Arts Center, starting with the tape cutting of the Chamber and following performances by MHS students.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or
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