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Penn College Dedicates ‘Student Bodies’ Centennial Sculpture

As part of its Centennial anniversary, Pennsylvania College of Technology welcomed 78 new “students” this fall, many of which just might be around for the institution’s bicentennial.

Some of these “freshmen” could sustain a broken body part, and others might corrode. But if welding majors, faculty and staff did their job correctly, the “Student Bodies” Centennial Sculpture will be still standing in 2114.

Augmenting the campus mall, the large-scale project features 78 abstract human forms made of scrap-metal pieces welded together. The college formally dedicated “Student Bodies” today during homecoming festivities. It’s the third recent art installation meant to enrich the college’s outdoor environment.

“This work of art is a testament to the creative abilities and technical skills of our college community,” said Davie Jane Gilmour, president. “It’s very rewarding to know that students, faculty, staff and visitors will be able to marvel at these creations for generations to come.”

Abstract human forms, crafted from thousands of pounds of scrap metal, parade up the mall on the main campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology. Titled "Student Bodies," the Centennial art installation features 78 life-size structures created by more than 50 welding students.
Abstract human forms, crafted from thousands of pounds of scrap metal, parade up the mall on the main campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology. Titled “Student Bodies,” the Centennial art installation features 78 life-size structures created by more than 50 welding students.

Gilmour initiated the project two years ago when she asked metal sculptor and welding instructor Michael K. Patterson to submit design ideas for an art piece to help commemorate the college’s Centennial anniversary.

“I just came up with this wild idea about having a bunch of abstract human forms walking down the middle of campus,” said Patterson, “and that really raised her eyebrows.”

“Student Bodies” was born.

During the past year, Patterson and approximately 50 welding students used 7,000 pounds of scrap metal to create the 78 life-size structures. Some took four hours to make; others consumed nearly a year. Most weigh about 80 pounds; one tops the scale at 350 pounds. All are distinctive in their own way.

“Before they even touched the steel, the students had to visualize a structure resembling a human being,” Patterson said. “Then they were presented with a pile of steel and had to convert the design into a tangible shape by welding it all together. I stressed to them that these have to be 100-year welds.”

“The most challenging part was applying 100-year welds. I had a couple parts snap off in the making,” said welding technology major Patricia A. Hintz, of Muncy. “What I enjoyed most was seeing all the things that are possible with metal. Beautiful, intricate art was made with scrap metal that the school was going to throw away.”

Many of the students doubted their artistic ability at the start of the project. In lab and class, they focus on technical proficiency, not free-flowing artistic expression.

“I would coach them through the whole process of ‘You are more of an artist than you thought you were,’” Patterson said. “I would tell them, ‘Wait until you see what you are about to build!’”

The students listened. Sculpture names such as “Pipe Man,” “Atlas,” “Running Girl” and “Terminatoresque Man” speak to the creativity and variety of their handiwork. Their creations also reflect the hands-on education championed by Penn College. From a construction worker to a chef to a dental hygienist, the sculptures depict students in majors from each of the college’s six schools.

The figures are organized into six sections spanning the campus mall. Pieces closest to the Breuder Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center are intended to represent freshmen, “unclear of their educational direction,” according to Patterson. “At the other end, the sculptures are more ornate, more refined and have some direction in life,” he said.

Welding & fabrication engineering technology major Colt D. Robbins, of Elizabethtown, appreciated the opportunity to “create what you had envisioned in your head.” He admitted that it could be daunting “finding the right-size material” and deciding “what looked best on the sculpture.”

Creating on deadline challenged Peter K. Ptacek, of Lewisburg, a welding and fabrication engineering technology major. “You had to quickly find a point where you could declare a sculpture done, despite the near infinite potential for tweaking and improvement,” he said.

Students and employees involved with “Student Bodies,” a Centennial art installation project at Penn College, gather for a photo with President Davie Jane Gilmour (third from left, back row) and Michael K. Patterson, lead designer/artist and welding instructor (fourth from left, front row).
Students and employees involved with “Student Bodies,” a Centennial art installation project at Penn College, gather for a photo with President Davie Jane Gilmour (third from left, back row) and Michael K. Patterson, lead designer/artist and welding instructor (fourth from left, front row).

All of the students worked on the project outside of class. Patterson believes the welding majors enhanced their skill set because the nature of the project forced them outside their comfort zone.

“They got to do a lot of out-of-position welding work where it’s not on a little tripod right in front of them in a comfortable booth,” he said.

“I was kneeling. I was sitting on the floor. And a few times I was even laying on the floor,” Hintz said.

“The experience was a good exercise in welding in odd positions and figuring out how to attack a joint that is laid out less than ideally,” Ptacek said.

The college’s General Services staff also contributed to the “Student Bodies” experience. Seven individuals, led by Andrea L. Mull, horticulturist/motor pool supervisor, and Chad L. Karstetter, horticulturist/motor pool lead person, were responsible for preparing concrete slabs, installing the figures and spreading 60 tons of stone to complement the sculptures.

“It was one of the craziest welding jobs I’ve ever been on,” said Patterson, who spent several years welding for the National Science Foundation in Antarctica. “I’ve never done anything where I had to personally coordinate so many people, material, substances and time. It was very exciting.”

Welding & fabrication engineering technology major Matthew H. Gordon, of Milton, summarized the most exciting aspect of the project for him and his classmates.

“No matter when I come back and visit over the years, my work will be there,” he said. “No matter what happens in life, this art will still be there with my name on some of them.”

For information about welding degrees and other programs offered by the college’s School of Industrial, Computing & Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

For more about Penn College, which is celebrating its Centennial throughout 2014, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

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