Wetlands: Ibis Floodgate
  • Add to Collection
Ibis. Bronze and Wood. Egyptian. 600 BCE. Nelson Atkins Museum. Kansas City, MO.
My proposal for the public artwork "Wetlands" was accepted for the 
Eccles Wildlife Education Center at Farmington Bay in Utah. "Wetlands" is a life-size Ibis sculpture referencing ancient Egyptian Ibis sculptures.  Ibis flourished in ancient Egypt and, although of great cultural significance, Ibis are extinct in Egypt due to water mismanagement.  The arts preserved the Ibis form through hieroglyphs and sculptures of magnificent bronze heads, necks, and legs with the bodies formed of wood or stone.  My "Wetlands" Ibis will have a finely sculpted head and legs cast in bronze, with the body formed through a post-modern appropriation of an industrial floodgate enhanced with a welded superstructure of square stock bronze tubing. The floodgate body emphasizes the crucial role of maintaining local wetlands for the millions of water foul that rely on the threatened watershed of the Great Salt Lake, and allow the public to interact with the manual process of regulating stream flow as a vital aspect of ensuring the survival of our local ecosystem.
On trips to Kansas City to visit family I always stop by the Nelson Atkins Museum, and they had just rebuilt their Egyptian / Greek / Mesopotamian section. The importance of animals both wild and domestic is always captivating, and the wonderful Ibis forms spoke to me across the ages...

 In Western history the iconic avian species of brackish wetlands is the Ibis: specifically
the Ibis-headed god Thoth. Thoth is The One god / the oldest Egyptian creator god / the only Egyptian self-created god; essential to maintaining the universe (credited with making the calculations for the establishment of the heavens, stars, Earth, and everything in them); the wisest of the gods- master of laws governing physical with moral/divine and the conveyance of these laws to mankind via writing/knowledge and is the scribe of the underworld (bill is like a pen); god of the moon (crescent moon is the curve of the Ibis’ beak).
Additional to images of Thoth in Hieroglyphics, sculptures, and sarcophagi, - millions of Ibis were captured/farmed for mummification and interred in ritual burial with people or in sacred sites.
Even though the Ibis were held in great regard, the Ibis went extinct on the Nile Delta in the 19th Century due to industrial scale human habitat destruction of Wetlands and Saline Mudflats.

In Utah, the threatened Great Salt Lake basin provides habitat for 40,000-54,900 White Faced Ibis, of 100,000 Ibis in all of N. America. There are millions of birds that rely on this habitat, crucial to the Great Western Flyway of migration from South America to the Arctic. 

The Wetlands sculpture personifies the conservation ethic of Farmington Bay: only through active freshwater management is the man-made Bay viable as habitat. The "Wetlands" sculpture stands as a signifier of human impacts and our local responsibility to actively engage in conservation. It honors Department of Wildlife Resources’ massive efforts to maintain/rebuild the Wetlands since the Great Salt Lake high waters in the 1980’s & ongoing pressures of human competition on finite water resources to the Jordan River’s delta into Farmington Bay. This includes managing over 200 freshwater floodgates.
The sculpture speaks in a Post-Modern language to reference the Egyptian cast bronze Ibis from 600 BCE, utilizing the Contemporary Art modus of Appropriation of the floodgate in tandem with the traditional Egyptian form. The Stainless Steel & Bronze reference the plumage of the White-Faced Ibis.

I made the finalist list for the commission, and set about creating a scale maquette in wood.
The committee liked the maquette so much, they will be adding it to the collection of the learning center at the new facility.
Narrow profile from the front and back.
Ibis Head. Bronze. Egyptian. 600 BCE. Nelson Atkins Museum. Kansas City, MO.
The head is isolated from the form and will act as the armature for the clay sculpture.
The finished clay sculpture has a different bill, as in researching I found Ibis sculls to work from that showed the correct curve and size ratio to the skull.
Seen from afar the Ibis looks black, but they are amazingly colorful in deep tones of bronze. The male in high plumage shows a bright white band of feathers around the bill/eye, while the fleshy brow line and eye line turn bright red. The plumage of the head and neck are bronzed browns with glowing hues of red and copper-orange, while the wings and back are copper-greens and can irredescently whiten to a shining stainless steel. The bill lightens to a gun-metal gray, or sandblasted stainless, or oxidized aluminum. The legs ripen to a deep sunburn. 
The legs are coming along. I like the approach taken by the Egyptian masters, but I have moved far from their stylization on the head. They have sat as a question mark for a few months while I finished out the latest round of Cutthroat Trout. Now the unprecedented June and July weeks on weeks of 100 to 107 degree heat are crushing me back into the studio to resolve the legs.   
Silicon molds with plaster backing for the head (L) and legs (R).  
A straight-forward mold process with a dowel added between the feet for structure and handling, with a similar dowel added to the head joining the beak to the neck.
With the original clay sculptures finished out, the next step is creating a brush-on silicon impression-mold backed by a hard shell of plaster as the mother-mold. Once accomplished I deliver the mold to the foundry and wait while they slurry wax into the molds. The thin wax forms are removed from the molds for inspection- the legs pulled clean enough to go the wax room for ceramic shell prep, but I take the head home for a few tweaks and return it the next day. 
All the parts cast clean and are ready for me to weld and chase. The frie inside the leg is from the foundry using a plasma cutter to remove a bronze pour gate.
The "windows" are removed in wax sprue for ceramic shell coverage and need to be refitted. I also requested a stainless steel rod be inserted into the beak prior to casting for added strength.
Welds must be clean of oxidation and impurities, and track the contour as closely as possible. That line has to disappear without needing additional touch-ups with the weld.
The oxidation occurs after the weld, effecting only the surface- I may have been welding at a higher amperage than needed. I brighten it off with a wire wheel so the contrast doesn't throw off my read of the weld to the leg. This weld blends in with a red pad on an angle grinder. 
Bronze is welded and chased!
The feathers are no longer disturbed by the weld line of the window.
Legs are ready for walkin'.
I skinned the wood original with clay to create the bronze, then cleaned the clay off after pulling the silicon mold as the wooden form will be displayed indoors at the Wildlife Education Center.
This is a Waterman C-10 Floodgate in stainless steel, cast iron (red & black), and bronze. It is a much sturdier gate than what is used to regulate the wetland estuary, as it will have to withstand the rigors of operation by elementary school students. 
I partly disassemble the gate to size it down by cutting off some length, then reassemble it.
Nora stands in for scale.
I disassemble the entire floodgate and paint the 5 cast iron parts in layers of different metallic colors to emulate the variance of bronze patina. The stainless steel is ground clean with ceramic discs on a special pneumatic tool made just for flat disk work. I also trim the long threaded riser and deburr both ends.
Next I will skin this with bronze square tubing, once our winter inversion comes into a safe range to be outside. pm2 @ 160