A version of artist Leslie Fry’s five-foot-long bronze “Colossal AcornHead” sculpture has made its way back to Tufts, replacing “Autruche II,” or Banjo the Ostrich, which was removed last spring.
Originally installed along the pathway to Tisch Library in May 2012, the statue was on loan to the university for a year as part of the then-pilot project for the Tufts University Art Gallery.
“I had known of Leslie Fry’s work of a much smaller scale, a miniature version of ‘Colossal AcornHead,'” Director of Galleries and Collections Amy Schlegel said. “There were a number of things in this work that I knew would work well when transposed from the miniature.”
Tufts recently purchased a new casting of the work for permanent installation. According to Schlegel, the original “Colossal AcornHead” was moved from campus to DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Mass., and will continue to be exhibited at other venues outside of Massachusetts. The new version was commissioned by the university, with a donation from the Montreal-based Gelmont Foundation.
“The amount of the gift was absolutely perfect to enable Leslie Fry to fabricate a second edition, so it made perfect sense,” Schlegel said. “We had such a positive response when the statue was first on loan to us … everybody was very pleased.”
The reinstallation is part of the art gallery’s Museum Without Walls, an initiative to introduce public art to campus. The project also has a corresponding mobile app that enables visitors to learn more about both indoor and outdoor art at Tufts.
According to Fry, her work provides a perspective on the relationship between humans and the natural world.
“If I were just to boil it down, I would say it’s really a statement about how we are connected to nature,” Fry said. “And that sounds over-simplistic, I’m sure, but one of the reasons it’s a head is that I feel that, in general, we are living in our heads … and so the idea that we are totally connected to what’s around us and the natural world, whether we realize it or not — it’s a huge reminder of that.
Fry explained that the detail in “Colossal AcornHead” incorporates influences from a range of architectural and artistic traditions. However, she designed the face without any particular person in mind.
“It’s not male or female,” Fry said. “I purposely tried to make the head not be any particular gender, because I want anybody to be able to relate to it.”
The school decided that bronze would be the best material for the outdoor project, according to Schlegel.
The size of the sculpture and the use of bronze, however, required a complicated process and additional work, Fry explained.
“The original acorn head that I made,I modeled out of plaster,” she said. “So then I bring that to the foundry, and they make a mold [that’s] rubber with a support shell over that, usually made of fiberglass, in many pieces.”
Using this initial mold, bronze sculptors like Fry create a final, heatproof mold using the ‘lost wax’ technique.
“They put that in a big kiln, and they melt all the wax out,” Fry said. “It’s like a negative, but it’s made out of this refractory material that can withstand great heat.”
According to Fry, the molten bronze is eventually poured in to this negative. For the “Colossal AcornHead,” the separate pieces then had to be cut off, ground down, welded together and smoothed. Finally, in order to give the statue the desired color, it was exposed to certain chemicals and temperatures before being sealed with lacquer.
“That’s basically it,” Fry said. “But it’s a big deal, it’s a lot of work.”
Tufts’ public art installations have received plenty of both positive and negative attention over the past couple of years. On display in the same location near Tisch Library until February, “Autruche II” boasted its own twitter feed before damage by vandals necessitated its removal.
“We ended the loan early so that [the sculpture] could be restored,” Schlegel said. “Then it went directly back to the lender.”
According to Fry, after “Colossal Acornhead” had been gone for almost a year, she received a message from a group of Tufts students asking for its return.
“It was almost a whole year later and they still wanted it back,” she said. “That’s just a great testament to really knowing that a piece of public art is appreciated.”