Home is where the art is

New sculpture house opens; parts of old one to live on as sculpture

by David Vance ’04

Sculpture professor Mike Johnson and his students have a new home: a 3,800 square-foot facility specifically designed for teaching about and making sculpture.

The old sculpture house, which was literally a residential house converted to a shop, was woefully inadequate, according to George Paton, the college’s manager of capital development. “The major issue was safety. The new facility will provide much improved ventilation and lighting.”

Other advantages include larger working spaces, a teaching studio, increased storage, and a hallway to display finished work. The new facility will house the sculpture department’s metal shop and woodworking studio, and will include a welding booth, paint booth, outside covered work areas, and an office for Professor Johnson.

The new building was constructed on the site of the previous sculpture house and cost about $435,000. It was designed to be what Paton calls “residential scale.” Its size and design blend in well with the surrounding neighborhood houses. Though only one-story, the L-shaped layout makes effective use of the available area at the site.

The old sculpture house, built in 1938, had to be torn down to make way for the new building. But parts of that old house will live on in a new form. Minoru Ohira, an artist who works with the Brian Ohno studio in Seattle, extracted some of the old-growth wood from the building’s structure before its demolition and will be using it to create artwork expected to reflect the Puget Sound area. He will be on campus this fall working with Puget Sound art students, as well as other local schools, to help transform his designs into reality. The finished works will be displayed on campus next spring. One of Johnson’s goals is to continue bringing in well-known local artists to work with students.

Johnson said he met Brian Ohno through a mutual association with the International Board of Sculpture. When Mike mentioned UPS’s old sculpture house would be demolished to make way for a new facility, Ohno immediately thought of Minoru Ohira’s work.

“It’s almost poetic,” mused Johnson, “what used to be a sculpture building will actually become sculpture.” The Brian Ohno studio will also be producing a film documenting Ohira’s project from structural debris to finished artwork.

Johnson credits Puget Sound Academic Vice President Terry Cooney with making the new building a reality. When Johnson was hired two years ago from the University of Delaware to create an expansive sculpture program, he knew the university would need a better facility. “But it was Terry Cooney’s belief in me and in the quality of the sculpture program that got the project off the ground.” Johnson also says that George Paton was key in making the project a success with a limited budget. “This is one of the finest facilities of its kind in the area. We got a lot for our money.”

It’s not the first time Mike Johnson has brought a sculpture program into prominence. He spent three years at Baylor University overhauling their program before moving on to the University of Delaware, where he spent two years helping to create a multimillion dollar sculpture facility. “I think I’ll stay here a while, though,” Johnson laughs. “I’m tired of moving.”