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Carving up an artful harvest

What began as a way to connect creatively during the pandemic has resulted in four impressive wood sculptures being donated to Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Four art faculty members launched the endeavor in the summer of 2020, and their finished art pieces were recently moved into locations across campus.

  • Keith A. Vanderlin, assistant professor of graphic design, with “C-3”
    Keith A. Vanderlin, assistant professor of graphic design, with “C-3”
    David A. Stabley, instructor of ceramics and wood sculpture, with his untitled sculpture
    David A. Stabley, instructor of ceramics and wood sculpture, with his untitled sculpture
    Mark W. Wilson, instructor of graphic design, with “Perseverance”
    Mark W. Wilson, instructor of graphic design, with “Perseverance”
    Brian A. Flynn, assistant professor of graphic design, with “Passages”
    Brian A. Flynn, assistant professor of graphic design, with “Passages”

    Brian A. Flynn’s “Passages” and Mark W. Wilson’s “Perseverance” are currently displayed in the Thompson Professional Development Center.

  • David A. Stabley’s untitled sculpture can be viewed in the atrium of the Breuder Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center.
  • Keith A. Vanderlin’s “C-3” is located on the first floor of Madigan Library next to a drafting table at the large, east-facing windows.
Plying a chain saw with surgical precision, Stabley imbues new life into a felled pine tree.
Plying a chain saw with surgical precision, Stabley imbues new life into a felled pine tree.

The sculptures were crafted from dead trees harvested from Vanderlin’s property. Flynn and Wilson utilized black cherry logs. Stabley created his work from a yellow pine log, and a Chinese chestnut stump served as the foundation for Vanderlin’s art. (Vanderlin’s “C-3” title stands for “chestnut wood construction in the time of COVID.”)

After the last weeks of Spring 2020 classes were held online due to the start of the pandemic, Flynn said the faculty foursome was craving some in-person teamwork, and the sculpture idea emerged as a way to reconnect that summer.

Wilson (left) and Stabley load the logs for transport ...
Wilson (left) and Stabley load the logs for transport …
... to wide-open studio space outside the Bush Campus Center.
… to wide-open studio space outside the Bush Campus Center.

“We were happy to get together again,” Flynn explained. “From the start, we decided to donate the sculptures to the college. The college allowed us to utilize the large, open space behind the Campus Center to carve the large-scale wood sculptures. It provided us a location to safely get together to interact creatively during the pandemic.

“Creating art is normally a solitary endeavor, spending hours alone in the studio. Having the opportunity to work around a group of creative and talented individuals fed me creatively and artistically and was a very satisfying experience.”

Flynn added that it was inspiring to bounce ideas off each other and watch how the others created their pieces. (For example, he marveled at how fast Stabley worked.)

“Working as a group was symbiotic,” Vanderlin adding, noting that he would not have completed his complex task without the collaborative effort (and “because the weight of the body of the sculpture required more than one person to move it”).

Vanderlin's sculpture begins to take shape, even before leaving the artist's property.
Vanderlin’s sculpture begins to take shape, even before leaving the artist’s property.

Wilson also used the opportunity to stretch his craft by carving an 8-foot log. “It’s the largest piece I’ve done to date. It’s twice as large as anything I’ve done before,” he explained. “I never thought I could tackle such a large project, but the safety net was there with everyone around.”

Wilson (left) and Stabley anchor the former's medium for transformation into "Perseverance."
Wilson (left) and Stabley anchor the former’s medium for transformation into “Perseverance.”

“Working together can help with decision making by taking suggestions from the other artists’ viewpoints,” Stabley said. “The whole group process is interesting to me. Picking up the logs, bringing them back to the work site, preparing the wood for carving and getting ready to work large scale with chain saws, grinders and gouges. I decided to work on an abstraction of the human form, taking some inspiration from African art. I enjoy the subtraction process but also like to include mixed-media additions.”

Stabley’s sculpture, residing in the ATHS atrium, is in an appropriate locale where he previously created an abstract mosaic.

The four sculptures join over 300 works of art that make up Penn College’s Art on Campus collection. On display in all academic and administrative buildings, the college’s art collection serves to enhance the physical and aesthetic campus environment while offering students opportunities for creative thinking, personal growth and social awareness. The collection includes a wide range of media by professional artists and features works acquired through both purchase and donation. An Art on Campus database is available on the college website.

Artists’ portraits by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor;
other photos by Vanderlin

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