Sculpted Art Contest fuses science and creativity | Education

Christina Koomen

Most calls for artists come from museums and galleries. But last year, Section 179 of the American Welding Society put out a call to students, inviting them to produce a welded sculpture for the group’s first-ever Sculpted Art Contest.

The contest was a literal blend of art and science, with detailed instructions about the types of metal that could be used, a prohibition on fasteners of any kind and extensive documentation requirements, among other specifications.

David Shinault is chairman of Section 179, which covers about a third of the commonwealth from the New River Valley to Central Virginia. He said the contest was envisioned to “encourage the creative talents of the young people in our community” while at the same time helping them learn the processes involved in welding.

Participating students came from Section 179’s service area, including high schools, technical education centers and New River Community College. That these institutions are involved in preparing tomorrow’s workforce was another important factor behind the contest.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the participants were guys, but a couple of females took part as well, including the grand prize winner Margaret Ferguson, and one intrepid art student, Sophia Dunleavy, who won fourth place.

As Shinault recalled it: “When she [Dunleavy] turned her project in, the judge asked her, ‘how long did it take you to make this?’ and she said, ‘three days.’ Then the judge asked, ‘how long have you been welding?’ and she said ‘three days.’ ”

The public had a chance to view all the results at the Taubman Museum of Art on May 6. Nine entries were exhibited in the museum’s atrium during one of its first-Friday “Late Nights” events, while the students, family, friends and sponsors celebrated the exhibit at a reception upstairs.

The contest’s lead sponsor was Banker Steel in Lynchburg. Company employee Bob Campbell and his wife, Tina, strolled past the exhibit on their way to the reception.

“I’m looking at the art. He’s checking out the welds, ”Tina laughed.

Shinault first reached out to The Roanoke Times about the contest almost two years ago – a reflection not just of the pandemic but of the complexities of putting together such a project.

Organizers enlisted two professionals to review the students’ work: Dave Beazley, a supplier to the company Shinault works for, Arc3 Gases; and Steve Bickley, a world-class metal sculptor and professor emeritus at Virginia Tech, who has connections with Section 179 and has exhibited at the Taubman.

There were also additional sponsors to secure and prizes to line up: a $ 1,000 scholarship as the top award; and welding-related equipment for second through fourth.

Although the opportunity to see the works in person was brief, the impact is longer lasting, as Shinault hopes the contest can help “bring new life” into his section of the welding society, and indeed the industry itself.

“We are very pleased with the turnout, and how this has come together for our very first show,” he said. “We’re already getting calls to continue this in subsequent years.”


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