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Resident Artist’s Sculpture ‘Ascending’ Installed in Missouri, Following Unique Development Process


Ferris State University Professor of Fine Arts and resident artist Robert Barnum will wait for the right time to return to Blue Springs, Missouri, for an exposition of his recently installed sculpture, “Ascending,” a work commissioned by that community.

Barnum’s work, three figures standing atop individual podiums in a 20-foot tall display, was the committee’s choice from a field of entries offered by artists across the U.S.

“The competition was announced in 2019. It was around the start of this year I learned of the success of my proposal,” Barnum said. “This sculpture is near the entrance to the Blue Springs Fieldhouse, the centerpiece of Blue Springs’ Parks Department. I was planning to continue my aesthetic engineering process with Ferris’ Welding Engineering Technology department, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced a sudden change in plans.”

Barnum enlisted two Ferris graduates, Avery Gay, of Midland, and Joel Buhrer, of Holland, to assist in the figures’ fabrication. Gay was completing his Welding Engineering Technology degree, and Buhrer, a Mechanical Engineering Technology graduate and colleague of Barnum, accepted a role in the creative process.

“With the contract deadlines we faced, Joel and Avery agreed to come to my studios in Morton Township to take up construction,” Barnum said. “I had two years of experience with them, which helped us in the studio retrofit necessary for us to accomplish the tasks at hand. Joel and Avery stayed on until it was time for them to start their careers. It was five weeks of, at times, rather furious work to beat the weather and complete this project.”

While the assembly of “Ascending” wrapped up in June, the trek to Missouri for installation had to wait.
“We could not deliver the work based on Blue Springs’ community health rules,” Barnum said. “I have been to the site three times in total to assure that the contractor worked in keeping with the aesthetic engineering process. “Ascending” was installed in November, but we will celebrate this work and commemorate the installation, another day.”

Each podium’s figures hold spheres, illuminated by a recessed well light for distinct viewing in darkness. There are also single-word statements cut into the podiums, such as “nature” and “community” as selected by Blue Springs’ Parks department and a municipal public art committee. These podiums have an intentional design to suggest natural stone found in that Missouri region, with their messages glowing at night, thanks to interior lighting.

Barnum said that regardless of obstacles that arose during his creative process because of the pandemic, this was another successful aesthetic engineering application.

“It is a concept that fits Ferris, and its mission to a tee,” Barnum said. “I am grateful that the College of Engineering Technology has been such a willing and supportive partner in my works. Programs from Plastics Engineering Technology, to Product Design, Welding Engineering Technology and Mechanical Engineering Technology have been key contributors in many creations, over more than 20 years.”