Take 20 tons of clay and 15 students and what do you get? Just another of Nicholas Bonner's classroom projects at Utah State University, a project made possible by Interstate Brick Co.
Bonner, who is building a reputation for creating unusual projects for his students, saw the "Sculpture in a Wasted Space" and approached Interstate Brick last winter about an idea for his ceramic sculpture course.His idea was simple: He wanted students to work on a large scale, a really large scale, and Interstate Brick responded by donating 20 tons of clay.
"College presents a rare opportunity for students to experiment and develop new ideas," Bonner said. "Unfortunately, this time can also be one of financial strain. Often to an art student one of the greatest concerns is being able to afford the materials necessary to produce a significant amount of work. This is especially true for large-scale proj-ects."
With Interstate's donation, the students went to work. Bonner supplied limited guidelines for the work but said that students had to use a minimum of one half ton of clay. The sculpture had to be at least life size and could not be a vessel. Pieces were to be installed outdoors and did not have to be fired. Students were to document the process and procedures in creating the sculpture.
Working with university officials, Bonner selected the site for what was to become an outdoor sculptural garden. Students went to work on the hillside opposite the Merrill Library across U.S. Highway 89 (Fourth North).
The students' works ran the gamut, he said. Some created environmental pieces that became part of the landscape. Some pieces were architectural, made up of smaller pieces and assembled into larger structures. Some pieces were large and figurative, and one was shrinelike, suggesting ceremonial practices.
Also important to the project was giving students a chance to work with ideas rather than strictly the creation of objects, Bonner said. With this in mind, some of the proj-ects were conceptual, meaning that the idea behind the work was as important as the piece.
Bonner is a believer in cooperation between the business and artistic communities. He has been involved in several such projects and cites examples of the Kohler Corporation, which has an artist in residence, and the Omaha Brickworks, which invites artists into the brickyard to create artwork.
"This project worked because the students were enthusiastic and thanks to Hal Emrich and Clyde Heiner at Interstate Brick," Bonner said. "What might have cost students $150 each was covered by this donation. This is an excellent example of business and education working together."
Because of the nature of the outdoor sculpture, and because most of the work was unfired, the clay structures and figures will eventually melt and wash away.