FARMINGTON — It took two months, 1,000 used lawnmower blades, 250 two-by-fours and hours of welding, but the newest piece of art on the University of Maine at Farmington campus was completed Wednesday.
Contemporary artist Christopher Fennell's work depicts three leaf-like blades gracefully blowing in the wind. The piece stands 24-feet-tall in front of the most "green" building on campus, the Education Center on High Street.
Known for his large pieces of art created from used and recycled materials, his proposal was appropriate for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-silver certified building, UMF President Theodora Kalikow said.
"While other artists proposed ducks and bunnies for the Education Center, Fennell proposed the recycled blades symbolizing the green of the building," Kalikow said. "We thought he was a perfect match for the project."
After spending two months living in Merrill Hall on campus, the New Mexico native will leave for Memphis where for his next project, he'll create a 63-foot-long guitar from old truck chassis at the site where Elvis Presley played his first Memphis concert, he said. Something that will take lots of welding.
For other pieces, he has used 600 aluminum baseball bats welded together, old canoes and various wooden and metal pieces that have a history — someone used it, he said.
"Going town-to-town to do my art is what I do," Fennel said.
This is his first piece created in Maine although Fennell has created large pieces from discarded materials since 2000 and at galleries and university campuses across the nation.
For the UMF building, he wanted to make a statement about the act of mowing grass by using the used blades in an environmentally friendly way to create a thing of beauty.
The color was chosen to compliment a green used within the Education Center, he said.
First building a 2-by-4 structure around the three stems, Fennell created the piece in wood, he said. Once he was happy with the look, he removed the wood and welded in the metal blade.
People were generous bringing him additional lawnmower blades, which he worked into the piece. He also received gifts of mittens and cups of soup left at the base of the piece as he worked through the rain and cold of the past two months. One student, Tim Millett, helped him lug some of the pieces up the scaffolding, he said.
They also shared stories of what the work reminded them of and students often asked the question "how are you being graded on it?"
The sculpture was commissioned at a cost of $41,500 in accordance with Maine's Percent for Art Act that provides funds for public artworks for newly constructed or renovated state-funded buildings. One percent was included in the construction budget for the Education Center and another 1 percent in the construction budget for Preble Hall. The only other expense for the university was site preparation work including the concrete base and stems.