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Friday, November 16, 2018

New Public Art Installed at SMCC

Time, technology and art come together in the imaginative ceramic mural, A Brief History of Technology, installed recently outside of the SMCC Technology Center.
Inspired by the creativity inherent in the concepts of both time and technology, Ceramics Faculty Pat  Manarin conceived the idea of representative murals. She guided her talented ceramics students as they created five distinct pieces.  

The large-scale, high-relief mural is positioned on the outside wall of the Technology Center elevator, facing the plaza that leads to the Welcome Center.  Vertically, from the bottom, it depicts historic “steps” in the advancement of in technology.
Bisque-fired and covered with a base glaze called “desert sand”  — plus colored oxides, which create subtle variations —  this work seems to have been called up from the center of the earth.   Naturally beautiful,  “A Brief History of Technology” tells a story about the powerful imagination, intelligence, and spirit of mankind  — from prehistory to modern times.
This astonishing mural is composed of five three-foot by four-foot sections. The bottom section represents an ancient relief –  “Flint Tools” (man’s first known tools; about 300,000 BC, according to the artists) by Jennifer Allred.

The next section from the bottom, “Time Pieces” (depicted are: an astrolabe — a tool for measuring time, distance and location by star and solar mapping — approximately 200 AD; a sun dial, dating to about 2100 BC, and mechanical clock, dating from 1270 BC), by Patricia Olivas and Valeria Becerra.
Moving up, the third section is “Printing Press” (typeset, printing rollers, text, dating from 1450),  by Nonie Bernard, followed by “Computer” (features the workings of a computer; first developed in 1935) by Vera Almann and Olympia Major. The top piece is “Nanotechnology” (shows nanotubes, nanofield and “buckyball”; dates to 1984). Sandra Mares and Erma Jackson.   
“I can’t say enough about my students in the mural-making class. They really worked as a team and they had awesome clay-handling abilities,” says Manarin.  “Most of them came directly from work to a class that went from five to ten p.m.  They were weary when they arrived for class and jubilant when they left.”
Dedicated artists, they completed their ceramic work in only one semester.  (Pat and her assistant, Vera Almann, would go on to fire and glaze the pieces).

In a 2003 meeting, the SMCC Art in Public Places Committee suggested the outside of the Tech Center’s elevator shaft as the ideal site for art. ( Throughout the Maricopa Community Colleges, one percent of the total budget is earmarked for art).  At the same time, Manarin, a committee member, was preparing for a sabbatical.  “The emphasis of my sabbatical was the technical and artistic elements of developing large-scale, high-relief sculpture,” she says. In her sabbatical proposal, Manarin determined that, upon return to the college, she would design and create a high-relief mural with a team of students.
“I loved the idea of placing the students’ finished work on the elevator shaft,” she recalls. “I developed the thought of a number of sections representing the different technological advances throughout history.  It seemed ideal for the Technology Center and for the college.
“ The opportunity to use the site vertically as ‘steps’ in technology development intrigued me, artistically and conceptually.”  The Art in Public Places committee loved the idea and voted to move forward.

From start to finish, the process would require as much fortitude and resilience as Gutenberg must have mustered when inventing moveable type in the 1400s.
In April 2004 and through that summer, the 24-year SMCC Art Faculty member and two members of the student team researched technology through the ages.  After deciding upon five eras of technology, they researched appropriate visual representations.  
That fall, Manarin and all of the students created the designs and spent the semester creating the pieces in clay.  The five sections dried throughout Spring 2005.  During the summer, Manarin began the precise and difficult task of bisque-firing.  The final piece, “Nanotechnology,”   (extremely high relief), exploded in a kiln that worked improperly.  Student Vera Almann remade the section and, following a summer of drying, it also blew up in the kiln.  Finally receiving a new bisque kiln, Manarin remade the piece in Fall 2005 and fired it successfully.
Finally came the glazing and re-firing of each of the pieces. “To make a long story short, it took over two years from conception to installation, and this included experimenting with various glazes,” she recalls.

To install the massive work, M & O Employee Terry Grant and Manarin worked in 100-degree-plus weather for four days. “My hat is off to Terry,”  says the artist.   Pre-installation work took a great deal of time and labor – including making paper templates to show the exact outline of each of the “tiles,” plus placing and numbering each section.  Grant then used the templates to cut out the exact shapes from marine board. He then adhered the boards to the elevator shaft, and bolted and applied each piece to the boards, using epoxy.
“A Brief History of Technology” is dedicated to JD Mildrew, who passed away January, 2005.  “His passing hit many of us on the mural team quite hard,”Manarin notes.   “We had eight women on our team; many had been students of JD. One was the mother of a former student of JD. Of course, JD made an enormous difference in the lives of every one of these individuals.”  

JD Mildrew taught both math and physics courses and had been the Math, Science, and Engineering division chair. He started at SMCC in 1988 and became an instant leader and inspiration to all his students and colleagues.


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