Two huge pink steel and aluminum amaryllis flowers are blooming in a Tuscaloosa park.
These heavy flowers are the work of two UA students who created the sculpture in response to a challenge from local authorities looking to put more art in public places. They are sophomore Ringo Lisko, an Honors College student and fine arts major from Gallup, New Mexico, and junior Amber Daum, a fine arts and archeology major from Ozark, Alabama.
For the last few years, Craig Wedderspoon, head of the Sculpture Department at UA, has been working with Sandy Wolfe, director of the Tuscaloosa Arts Council, and Gary Minor, director of the Tuscaloosa Parks and Recreation Authority (PARA), to place more public art around Tuscaloosa.
“Gary and Sandy and I have been trying to get public art on the radar in Tuscaloosa for quite some time,” Wedderspoon said. “One of the critical elements of building community and economic success is integrating culture within that community and within that economic plan. It makes an environment unique and makes it original.”
In the spring of 2017, PARA and the Arts Council called for proposals for a public art commission. Submissions were open to all UA students and faculty, no matter their level of experience. In the end, they established a student design competition, hoping to utilize students as a resource due to the project’s limited budget of $5,000.
“You’re not going to get a professional, practicing artist to be able to make something of that size and scale for $5,000, it’s just not doable,” Wedderspoon said.
According to Wedderspoon, the amaryllis sculpture designed by Daum and Lisko would have cost around $30,000- $50,000 if it had been created by a professional artist, which is still relatively minimal for public art. The $5,000 budget just barely covered the cost of the materials needed to build the sculpture.
The competition was a broad learning experience as it required students to learn the process of creating a proposal, working out timelines, budgets, designs and concept drawings. In addition, it gives these students the ability to apply for future public art commissions, as previous experience is typically required.
“This is an opportunity that the students would never be able to afford themselves,” Wedderspoon said. “This gives them the opportunity to learn a whole new set of technical and creative concepts by working on a larger scale, working with a client, and working with the public in mind.”
The student competition was judged by a committee consisting of PARA representatives. Arts Council representatives, a member of the state Arts Council, local business representatives and Wedderspoon. The committee received eight total proposals for the public art commission. After evaluating all the proposals, the committee narrowed it down to two proposals, one by Eric Nubbe, who is now a UA graduate and the joint-proposal by Daum and Lisko.
“The committee chose the ones that would come in and do an actual presentation to the group, so that we could meet them and dive into what they were doing a little deeper,” said Wolfe.
The committee liked both proposals so much that they could not come to a final decision. That’s when Minor decided they were going to commission both sculptures, one for Snow Hinton Park and the other for Monnish Park.
Daum was a sophomore and Lisko was a freshman when they won the public art competition. The two had met through a shared sculpture class and became friends. Daum and Lisko were both in ART 322, their second sculpture class at UA, when they found out about the call for proposals through Wedderspoon, their sculpture professor.
“Our professor always lets us know about opportunities within the community,” Lisko said.
Daum said she originally had a simple idea for a possible proposal, but soon realized the project was too big for just her to handle, enlisting the help of Lisko.
“Obviously we were excited but it was a shock, neither of us were expecting to get it,” Daum said. “So it was kind of like, wow, this is real.”
Work began on the sculpture in June 2017 and recently finished February 2018. An immense amount of time and effort has gone into the making of their sculpture “Amaryllis”.
“Amber and Ringo with these flowers have easily put in 1,000 hours of work,” Wedderspoon said. “The pair were both somewhat new to sculpture and still had processes they had to learn before they could complete the project.”
Daum and Lisko’s sculpture is made of steel and aluminum, welded together to create two huge amaryllis flowers. Painted pink and green, the two flowers are accompanied by leaf shaped benches underneath, giving the community a way to interact with this new addition to Monnish Park.
These sculptures are an experiment to see how well the student design competition works and how the public responds to the pieces that will be installed. If everything goes well, PARA plans to host the competition again, in the hopes of creating a public art trail throughout Tuscaloosa parks.
“We have some incredibly talented artists here,” Wolfe said. “We have a great resource in The University of Alabama, and what better way to showcase that than through the arts?”