Creative collaboration

Fine art sculpture welding engineering courses to be postponed until next summer

“There’s nothing like it,” said Professor of Fine Arts Robert Barnum.

But nothing like what, that is? In college where getting an education is often limited to mundane test taking and robotic regurgitations of information, Barnum and his colleagues offer students an opportunity for a higher education and creative solutions.

A pair of classes called ART 290 and WELD 290 that were going to be offered this summer now won’t be offered until next summer. The class was to take elements of graphic design, fine art, and welding technology and immerse students in all steps involved in planning and creating a sculpture. Despite disappointment of postponement, Barnum remains excited at the merging of these disciplines and its benefits to students and the future. Barnum and associate professor David Murray have been evolving this course over 10 years.

“In our area we are interested in people who make new things that have never existed before. America is going to become the think tank of world. So we started bringing our projects into our classes and Professor Murray’s classes and began building unique things, mostly sculptures. Not until a few years ago did we decide the smart move was to turn that into an academic agenda. There is nothing like it in the country, so let’s build it here,” said Barnum.

Before these newly combined courses, students stuck with their disciplines. Design students would visualize the sculpture or piece of work, and welding students physically created it. Under this new system, students enrolled in this course would be in a four-week program, taking part in both the design and production of the sculpture, with a new room in the art department to be specifically built for this integrative approach.

“We are going to marry two programs that have never worked together before: CAD programs that engineers work with and Photoshop and Illustrator that design programs use. That’s just the design end to create new sculptures of the future. The bigger concept that is rare at Ferris is the bridge idea—arts and science programs partnered with school of technology literally working side by side,” said Barnum.

In the past 10 years, seven publicly displayed sculptures have been created by efforts of art students under leadership of Barnum and welding students under leadership of Murray. Some of these works include “Contemplation” outside of City Hall, “Healing hands” donated to Mecosta County Medical Center, and the 125th Anniversary sculpture, “To Strive, To Seek, To Find” on Perry Street upon entering Ferris. The 125th sculpture was named by Associate Professor Christine A. Vonder Haar who submitted the name and won. But next summer will be the first time that the same students have their hands in both the planning and creating processes.

“Students will come back here with their children 20 years from now and say ‘I was part of something that will last 100 years.’ For students in all areas who aren’t quite finding that last bit of higher education, we are offering that opportunity—to do something that’s never been done before,” said Barnum

For more information, contact Barnum at