Auburn University graphic design professor John Morgan brings art to life in three-dimensional form through kinetic sculpture. Intrigued by the possibility of collaborating on a large piece with Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University, Morgan planned for a multi-faceted display intended to fascinate the public. Combining visual art, design, mechanics, and woodworking, Morgan created an animated sculpture donation box, “Artful Dodger.” Morgan will deliver a talk on his work with a reception to follow at the museum on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 2:00 p.m.
The piece is made of five electric motors controlled by a series of timers and switches. The carved wooden carrousel turns clockwise as each gear slides into position. Each click of the gear showcases wooden figures attached to the piece, derived from the museum’s permanent collection.
“I didn’t find it interesting to try to simply duplicate two-dimensional art in three dimensions as it limits the opportunity for creative expression,” Morgan said. “So I chose to extrapolate what each of the subjects might have been doing at a time other than the moment that their image was frozen in our conscience by the artist.”
With this in mind Morgan created a unique personality for each subject attached to the piece. In Diane Arbus’ black and white photograph, “Triplets in their Bedroom,” the subjects are now shown vacationing at the beach, but still depicted in black and white. John James Audubon’s whooping crane is shown wading through a marsh observing whatever happens to pass by. Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s “Circus Girl Resting” is now shown performing and Roger Brown’s “Hank Williams Honky Tonk Man” sings in a “honky tonk” setting.
“Since all four of the subjects have different personalities, I decided to present each to the viewer one at a time on the carousel turntable with the Audubon whooping crane being the central unit that unites other diverse subjects,” Morgan said. The creation of each subject and the turntable took approximately two years to complete with the help of student technicians. The planning process lasted a year, which led to a full-size cardboard model. After the dimensions were approved, Morgan finalized the sculpture, marking another stage in his kinetic sculpture career.
For 30 years, Morgan has studied and produced kinetic sculpture primarily in woodwork. Pieces from his limited edition collections have been shown in “American Craft” and “American Woodworker” and exhibited in museums around the world. In the summer, he also teaches at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Franklin, Indiana, the largest woodworking school in the United States.
“I hope that this piece will be well received by the patrons and become a signature piece of the museum,” he said. “I believe that it will help to make the experience of museum going more interactive.”
Museum guests will be able to visit the donation box in the museum’s Carlisle Lobby and experience Morgan’s interpretation of the permanent collection. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday until 8 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free courtesy of JCSM Business Partners. This piece was made possible with support from J. Mark Jones–Prestige Properties.
Contributed by Taylor Ennis, PR Intern, Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art