Ferris State University Professor of Fine Arts Robert Barnum’s latest sculpture “The River that Flows Within” can be viewed along the Riverwalk behind Big Rapids Middle School.
The sculpture of two people paddling in a canoe was made out of aluminum and corten with the help of 25 Ferris Welding Engineering Technology students. The artwork is dedicated to Jack and Susan Batdorff of Big Rapids. Barnum believes that the Batdorffs have played a significant role in the evolution of arts in Big Rapids and the arts at Ferris. The sculpture provided another opportunity for Barnum and students to give back.
“Students will find considerable value in giving back to the community,” Barnum said. “This monument sculpture is dedicated to the river that flows through Big Rapids. This moving force of nature is not only a thing of beauty but is a powerful force that impacts the lives of all who visit or live here.”
Barnum explained how having the sculpture so close to the middle school offers young minds a significant public art statement. The Riverwalk Sculpture Dedication event was held on Dec. 9 to officially present the sculpture to the community. Barnum said that the sculpture is designed to last 200 years and hopes it will “solicit response and interpretation” from those who view it.
“The value of this sculpture is that it represents a successful component of a long-term goal to create a museum-quality public art collection throughout Mecosta County,” he said.
Barnum began planning the sculpture’s design early in 2011. The final display was installed in November. The sculpture was funded by the city of Big Rapids and the Batdorffs.
Barnum has created numerous sculptures throughout the Big Rapids community, including the two-part “Journey Sculpture” at the Timme Center for Student Services on campus.
“These sculptures are very important to me as an artist and as a professor,” said Barnum, who was named Michigan Artist of the Year in 2003. “My goal as a professor of Art at the university level is to bring real-world problems and challenges into the classroom under an academic concept I call aesthetic engineering.”