Fluid Dynamics

The Oregon District gets new public sculpture

 By Kevin J. Gray

In early spring of 2012, the city of Dayton began an upgrade project of Patterson Boulevard for the stretch that runs from Sixth Street to Second Street, a segment of a project that will eventually link the University of Dayton to Riverscape. Part of the plans call for a work of public sculpture at the northwest corner of the Oregon District, in the small triangle diagonally across from the Neon Movies.

When determining what piece should go in this parcel, Cindy Remm, who cares for the small green space adjacent, knew exactly who to contact. She reached out to Bill Pflaum, a Dayton native with deep roots in the city. Pflaum is President and Trustee of the seedling Foundation, an organization dedicated to supporting the arts and academic programs at Stivers School for the Arts, the Dayton Public Schools arts magnet.

Remm had initially asked Pflaum if students from Stivers would be interested in creating a piece for this location. The school was interested, but was already committed to another project – the “Thresholds” sculpture featured by the Dayton City Paper in the October 2, 2012 issue. But the question sparked a personal interest for Pflaum. He mulled the idea over that weekend, talking with his wife and others, and then reached out to Remm with an offer. He and his wife would underwrite the sculpture as a gift to the city and as a memorial to his family. Pflaum’s family ran a downtown publishing business, George A. Pflaum, Publisher, Inc., which created nationally distributed teaching materials including books, weekly publications for young people and magazines for teachers. The sculpture would serve as a memorial to several of Pflaum’s family members – George A. Pflaum (1858-1907), George A. Pflaum, Sr. (1903-1963) and George A. Pflaum, Jr. (1932-1981), as well as the legacy of the family business. The city agreed, so Pflaum began looking for an artist.

Pflaum reached out to eight local and regional artists, covering a diverse span of sculptors. Six proposals were submitted, and of them, four were highly considered. The winning proposal came from artist Jon Barlow Hudson, who proposed a piece called “Fluid Dynamics.”

Hudson is a Yellow Springs-based sculptor who studied at the Dayton Art Institute, the California Institute of the Arts, the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Urbana College. Hudson has created large-scale public sculptures for locations around the world, including several in southwestern Ohio. Hudson’s mediums include granite, marble, stainless steel, bronze and aluminum, and his works are typically abstract, geometric and mathematical in nature.

Hudson surveyed the site, which once formed the bed of the Miami-Erie Canal and is now a busy thoroughfare. He noted the colors, the shapes and the movement of the area. Those observations are incorporated into Hudson’s design. The following excerpt from Hudson’s artist statement, which will be attached to a pylon supporting the sculpture, explains the sculptor’s vision:

“‘Fluid Dynamics’ embodies in sculptural form my interpretation of flow in nature. … ‘Fluid Dynamics’ is designed for this site …  a place where flowing water brought development to the young city of Dayton and where today aerodynamically-designed vehicles drive by and fly overhead, creating vortexes in the air.  For me the sculpture speaks of Dayton’s past at the junction of the Miami, Mad and Stillwater Rivers, of its engineers who mastered the aerodynamics of flight, hydraulics, aeronautics, propulsion and of its present, atop rich, flowing aquifers. Through the sculpture, I look to a future of continuously flowing creative energy from the citizens of greater Dayton.”

The piece is large scale, created from powder-coated aluminum. Abstract in form, the work incorporates complex curves that mirror the flow of water and of air. The sculpture’s rhythmic repetition undulates as waves through water or space, and the bright yellow color is designed to energize the site – to bring a vibrant hue to a landscape saturated in urban grays and browns and muted colors. Pflaum and Hudson hope the piece serves as a focus of energy for the Patterson Boulevard project, as well as for downtown Dayton at large.

The fabrication of a large-scale sculpture is a story in and of itself. Hudson often starts small-scale, working using sketches and poster board models. For some pieces, he shepherds the hand-wrought model through to the final fabrication himself. However, the complex curves of “Fluid Dynamics” require precision equipment that Hudson does not possess. To compensate, Pflaum and Hudson turned to the Dayton architectural firm LWC, Inc., who translated the poster board model into construction documents that precisely dictate the specifications of Hudson’s design. Those documents were then given to Commercial Metal Fabricators, a Dayton metalworking firm. That team, with whom Hudson has partnered before, uses the construction documents to replicate the curvature of Hudson’s model, using both CAD programs and artisan know-how. The structure, which is comprised of ten separate components, is dry-fit together at Commercial Metal Fabricator’s warehouse to ensure that all pieces are to spec, then shipped to Legacy Powder Coating in Franklin, where the team adheres the yellow hue. Finally, the pieces are shipped back to Dayton for assembly. If all goes according to schedule, look for final installation at the site by the end of the year.

Pflaum hopes this piece sparks more public sculpture in the area. To that end, he is working with the city and private investors to find other locations throughout the area for public art. With any luck, “Fluid Dynamics” will be the start of a movement in the city that transforms barren spaces into energizing works of art.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@daytoncitypaper.com

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