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Sculpted Imagination


Rebecca Graham wears her winged sculpture.

Written by Diana Mazzella
Photographed by Raymond Thompson Jr.

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Atop a human-sized stump, Rebecca Graham stands guard in the Core Arboretum at West Virginia University as autumn wanes into winter. Her bat-like wings painstakingly molded to her body are meant to evoke Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine, Icarus escaping from a labyrinth in Greek mythology, frill-necked lizards and birds of paradise. But she’ll never take flight. Her wearable sculpture is about what prevents forward momentum.

Rebecca Graham wears her winged sculpture.

Rebecca Graham

Sculpture Junior 
Cool Ridge, W.Va. 
MATERIALS: Steel with spray paint, expanded metal mesh, canvas, embroidery thread and wire

Graham was part of associate professor Jason Lee’s advanced sculpture class that faced one particular assignment to make a prosthesis that hindered movement. Each student took their experiences of the world, their visions and metal or wood to make their experimental discoveries. 

“For mine, I was going off the concept of that beauty versus practicality," Graham said of her sculpture “Sentinel.” “Once these are here, I can't do anything with my arms.”

Graham was initially a painter in college but after her first sculpture, she went into the 3-D world. “To me, sculpture is the best way to learn how to utilize all   of the ideas that you have.”

Nica Morrison wears a wooden cage on her head.

Nica Morrison

BA '15, Criminology 
Philadelphia, Pa. 
MATERIALS: White pine

When given the mission of making a prosthetic inhibitor, Nica Morrison immediately thought of head cages. On further research, she discovered the gossip’s brank, a medieval torture device — she called it a “human muzzle” — to punish women for speaking in ways that a church, court or other authority wanted to censor.

Nica Morrison wears a wooden cage on her head.

“It was made out of iron and they would lock your head in it and either chain you to the church or walk you around on a leash with a little bell on top.”

An advocate for women’s rights, Morrison created her own version of the gossip’s brank: the wooden skank brank, symbolic of how she sees patriarchy of the 21st century placing women within a softer cage of wood that doesn’t punish gossip but instead expressions of sexuality. "It's not as severe visibly in society, but it's still there."

Kari Kindelberger wears an iron sculpture.

Kari Kindelberger

Sculpture Junior 
Wheeling, W.Va. 
MATERIALS: 1/4-inch round stocks steel finished with black spray paint

Organic forms were on Kari Kindelberger’s mind from her succulents and cacti at home.

Kari Kindelberger wears an iron sculpture.

“I’m just going for a looser form and just let it come do its thing … exploring different forms in general and how they can work with my body or just work in space.

As she found, it’s difficult to make steel cling to your own body. Over one night she moved three pieces of steel to fit her body in the shop then ran to a small mirror in the sculpture studio to see how it looked. In the end, she created the curves and volume that succulents exhibit.

Bridget Hirak wears canvas sculptures on her feet.

Bridget Hirak

Sculpture Junior 
Greensburg, Pa. 
MATERIALS: Metal, canvas, spray paint, encaustic wax

Bridget Hirak called on her family history to create heavy shoes in a piece she calls “The Weight of Duality.” 

“I was also thinking of my grandfather … at a young age he burned his legs at work and he also had arthritis, so his legs were really bad, and we had to make special shoes for him every year because his legs were uneven, too.”

“I started thinking about trees and roots and the weight of things.”

When Hirak’s grandfather was in his 20s, his legs were burned with iron at a factory. Inside the weighty shoes, you can see the flames. His injuries changed his life for the worse. After WWII, he couldn't work and became an alcoholic. Hirak says he was two people, an abusive man, and what she saw: a really good man.