Intersection of art & industry

Published 10:03 am Thursday, March 27, 2014

Artist Harry Borgman and metal fabricator Andy Gantenbein pose with maquettes of the sculpture, “Psyche.” (Leader photo/CRICKET NELSON)

Artist Harry Borgman and metal fabricator Andy Gantenbein pose with maquettes of the sculpture, “Psyche.” (Leader photo/CRICKET NELSON)

Project focused on creating permanent display

SAWYER — With its lasers, plasma cutters, and water jetcutters, Liberty Steel may seem like a strange place to find art being created, but that is exactly what is happening at the St. Joseph fabricating plant that Andy Gantenbein first opened in 1998.

The current project, a 20-foot-tall steel sculpture entitled “Psyche” by artist Harry Borgman, is a collaboration between Gantenbein, Borgman and the Harbor Country Public Arts Initiative (HCPAI), which commissioned the piece.

“Psyche” has been in the works for about a year, according to artist and board member Rick Ott, and the collaboration has been an enjoyable experience for all those involved.

“We’re probably about a year into this project now, between selecting it and going out and getting some quotes from different places,” Ott said. “Andy’s desire is to be involved in the arts, which is just great. When you take a steel fabricator, like he is, with an interest in the arts, too, it’s just really nice to have that kind of support. We’ve had a ball with it.”

Ott and other members of the board hope that the sculpture will be placed in its designated spot—at the intersection of Sawyer Road and Red Arrow Highway—in conjunction with Art Attack.

“We’d like to do it April 25 or 26,” said board member Cathi Teas-Rogers. “That’s Art Attack weekend in Harbor Country, so we’re thinking of doing it that Saturday afternoon. We’d have the dedication, have some wine, and let everybody come see it.”

While the sculpture is still in the process of being constructed, Teas-Rogers and others are confident that the piece will be completed by then.

“It looks like it will be done by then,” Teas-Rogers said. “My understanding is that, once it is done, they’re going to take it outside and let it patina a little bit before they take it down to Sawyer and install it.”

That patina should start the sculpture on its way to its changing from the shiny steel it is now to a striking rust-orange color

“It’ll start off really shiny because it will just be the raw metal, and then they’ll do a sandblast on it to kind of texture the metal a little bit, and then it will rust more uniformly,” Ott explained. “It’s Cor-Ten steel, so it’ll form this rust coat on it, and then it’ll seal itself right off.”

Because they are using Cor-Ten, or “weathering steel,” the sculpture should be virtually maintenance-free.

“We’re trying to put art out there that we don’t have to keep re-doing,” Ott said. “We’d like to put a permanent piece out there, and that is what we’re doing with this. This will be our second permanent piece.”

HCPAI’s first permanent piece is “Dewey,” a painted aluminum sculpture of a whimsical unicyclist created by Robert Cordisco and located outside of the New Buffalo Public Library.

HCPAI is also behind the placement of many other pieces of public art at locations throughout southern Berrien County, including several that have been placed in the Three Oaks Sculpture Garden.

That, in fact, is the location of another piece of public art that was fabricated at Liberty Steel, a hyperscale kaleidoscope, designed by William Anderson.

“I got into the art industry four years ago,” Gantenbein explained. “I’ve been working with an artist, William Anderson, and I sponsored him to do some art, and the art went to Art Prize in Grand Rapids. As a result, I did a second project with William Anderson, a hyperscale kaleidoscope, which is in Three Oaks.”

Those two pieces put Gantenbein on the HCPAI’s radar, and they contacted him when it was time to find a fabricator for Borgman’s “Psyche.”

“As a result of those two pieces, the Harbor Country Public Arts Initiative got a hold of me and said, ‘Hey, we have a job we want you to do as contract work.’ So, this is the first contracted art job that I’m being paid to do,” Gantenbein said. “The only industry that I hadn’t diversified into was the arts, so I went after that, and it’s been a lot of fun!”

For his part, Borgman has also enjoyed the process of seeing his piece go from sketch to maquette, or model, to 20-foot-tall sculpture.

“I enjoy what I do. It’s a lot of fun,” Borgman said. “The real creation of it comes with the model, and the large piece is just a reproduction of the model. So, all of the creating goes into the original. I probably worked on it for about a month.”

At 85 years old, Borgman has had a long, varied and successful career in the arts.

“He’s a very prolific artist. He used to work for GM. Years ago, in the 1960s, they would do a lot of ads that were line drawings, and that was Harry Borgman,” Ott said. “He’s written a lot of books that are used in classrooms on graphic arts. And then, he is a very prolific painter. He was just featured on ‘The Good Wife’ last season. He’s a pretty neat guy.”

The HCPAI chose “Psyche” from a number of different designs that Borgman had completed.

“Harry just has tons of scale models, so we went through lots of his pieces and studied them because some of these things are easier to fabricate than others,” Ott said. “This one here is really interesting because it changes as you walk around it. When you see this piece, the thing changes constantly. It’s very simple, but it looks more sophisticated, really, just because of the way it’s made. It’s going to be a beautiful piece.”