Education

New sculpture takes flight at Denman

Artist Fritz Olsen, of Sawyer, Mich., detaches security 2x4s from his sculpture, 'Taking Flight,' at Denman Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. The custom piece, which was inspired by the school mascot, a falcon, is made of stainless steel and stands nine feet tall. | H-W Photo/Katelyn Metzger
Katelyn Metzger1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 5, 2019 12:01 am

QUINCY -- With the help of a lift and cheers from an appreciative pint-sized audience, Fritz Olsen's latest sculpture took flight Monday to its new home at Sarah Atwater Denman Elementary School.

Olsen's stainless steel piece "Taking Flight" is the second to be installed as part of a partnership between Arts Quincy (the Quincy Society of Fine Arts) and the Moorman Foundation bringing public art to eight Quincy schools.

"Seeing each of these go up has been really rewarding. The arts are such a part of education," Arts Quincy Executive Director Laura Sievert said. "A partnership like this with a foundation that believes investment in the arts is important, that just makes me smile about Quincy. It makes you proud to be a Quincyan."

Olsen found inspiration for the piece by watching the seagulls flying around where he lives near Lake Michigan -- and it was a perfect fit for Denman, the home of the Falcons, and its bird theme throughout the building.

"This really will be the finishing touch on Denman Elementary," Principal Chrissy Cox said.

The piece "just has an uplifting spirit to it," Olsen said. "Hopefully an inspiring feeling comes out of this piece for the kids."

Adding public art to places like schools "is a key factor in making important institutions or public settings more of a connective memory for people. It creates an identity for spaces and areas for people to have a common memory," Olsen said.

"Any time a community gets together and starts adding artwork to public spaces, it's a good sign for a community," said Dan Perry, the Waterloo, Iowa, artist of "Vault," the sculpture installed last month at Quincy High School. "If you create artwork to put in a museum, the only people who see it are interested enough to go there. If it's in a public space, people have experiences with it and build up a cultural landscape that defines a place."

A sculpture in Olsen's hometown of Park Forest, a Chicago suburb, offered a way for people to have some sort of involvement in the arts "even if they didn't want one" and a way to communicate with one another "not only about art, but about the way they view the world," he said. "It's always interesting to have one subject or item and see when people meet and talk, they can get a better sense on where their other friends or people are coming from."

Olsen spent nearly a month creating the eight-foot-tall piece for Denman, starting with paper sketches refined on a computer and pieces of steel cut by water jet and bent in a large press, then welded together, sanded and finished.

"It was all hand work, grinding and sanding, much more time-involved than I originally thought," he said. "I went with a little heavier material for the strength, and it required a lot more finishing."

Public art pieces provide challenges of scale, durability and lighting.

"It's creative problem solving. You're creating the problem you have to solve," Perry said. "It's rarely the same type of problems, but you're inventing new solutions."

Perry retrofitted his 14-foot-tall stainless steel and aluminum piece, which was built in 2018 and displayed at several locations, with lighting for its new home at QHS.

Like with Olsen's piece, an interest in aviation provided inspiration for "Vault" and its strong vertical presence topped with an abstract flourish that could be read as a flame or something moving upward.

"It ties into the setting being in front of the high school, continuing education and getting ready for the next stage of life -- a springboard to step off into what they do after they graduate," Perry said. "One of the things I always hope happens is every time people are near it they have a different experience with it, they notice a detail they didn't see before."

Creating art in college turned into career inspiration for Olsen, a full-time artist with a studio, art gallery and sculpture garden on an old azalea farm in Sawyer, Mich.

"I had the opportunity to carve some marble. My father is a sculptor. He worked in wood for all of my youth, and I always helped him out and made things," he said. "My last year in college, he brought stone home. I carved a piece, carved a second one and fell in love with the medium. I graduated the next year and became an artist instead of an engineer."

He works in stainless steel, marble and granite creating pieces for residential, corporate and public spaces in areas as diverse as Hawaii and the Virgin Islands to Chicago and New York.

"My favorite thing about being an artist is if you want to try something new, work with different processes or technology, you can do it. There's no rules that say you can't," Perry said. "You try different techniques to get different aesthetics."

Perry -- a professor at the University of Northern Iowa who has a former student, Timothy Jorgenson providing pieces for two of the schools -- likewise has pieces displayed in private and public settings and said the public art pieces rarely require any maintenance except cleaning.

"It's really no different than planting trees along a sidewalk or putting planters out. People generally take care of things once it's out there," he said. "People take ownership. It becomes part of the landscape, especially in rotating shows where communities lease artwork for a year. At the end of the year when the artwork is changed over, people don't realize how much they value artwork until you take it away."