John Saurer, a 1989 Hope College graduate, has won a juried competition organized by the college to select a work for the large art alcove in the main stairwell of the college's recently constructed Martha Miller Center for Global Communication.
Saurer, who majored in art at Hope and now is a member of the art faculty at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, was one of 26 alumni artists who submitted proposals for the space by invitation. His sculpture, "Shadow Casting," will be installed in the building in the latter part of the summer or in the early fall.
The Martha Miller Center for Global Communication opened in the fall of 2005 and houses the departments of communication and modern and classical languages as well as the offices of international education and multicultural life. Artwork is featured throughout the building, and includes pieces such as Japanese ceramics contributed to the college from the collection of Maurice Kawashima of California; "Pentecost" by 2003 graduate Daniel Berhanemeskel, painted in the style of Ethiopian religious icons; and a series of four wooden panels carved for Hope during the 1996-97 school year by Nigerian sculptor Lamidi Olonade Fakeye.
The competition was organized as a way to feature in a prominent location alumni art that complements the center's emphasis. Saurer's work is a relief sculpture made of welded steel and wood, and consists of multiple small abstract objects intended to cast shadows as part of the composition and which evoke a sense of written communication across a variety of cultures and periods of time.
"I am continually intrigued by the relationship between traditional and contemporary forms in art," Saurer said. "The primitive forms, patterns and materials in African objects were deeply inspirational to Cubist artists of the early 20th Century. Forms in my sculpture are referential to these shapes and relationships."
"I am also interested in creating new relationships between two- and three-dimensional media," he said. "I am intrigued by the implicit 'drawings' on the wall created by random patterns and shadows of the relief sculptures."
Saurer's work was the unanimous choice of the competition's four judges, who included Joseph Becherer, curator of sculpture and director of exhibitions at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids; Judy Hillman, the Howard R. and Margaret E. Sluyter Associate Professor of Art and Design at Hope; Henry Matthews, the director of galleries and collections at Grand Valley State University; and Delbert Michel, professor emeritus of art at Hope.
"It's a challenging piece of art because it isn't literal," Hillman said. "Because of its abstraction, it can mean different things to different people."
"The separate elements are iconic and they act as symbols," she said. "They could relate to any time, any culture."
Saurer noted that he appreciated the opportunity to prepare a work for the building, which he had toured during a visit to campus shortly after it opened.
"I was familiar with the building and the space and what it meant to campus, and was eager to participate," he said. "I was inspired by not only the building but also the whole concept of the global community and what that's going to mean for Hope."
Visitors to the college's De Pree Art Center during the Invitational Alumni Exhibit there this past fall have already had an opportunity to experience one presentation of "Shadow Casting." The large work - which is more than eight feet wide and 25 feet tall - filled the two-story wall adjacent to the gallery's main staircase.
"Shadow Casting" (the title is inspired by a casting technique in fly fishing in which the line is carefully lengthened to a specific distance) is also not Saurer's first installation on the Hope campus. His sculpture "Stop, Look and Listen" was dedicated in the A.J. Muste Alcove in the college's Van Wylen Library in October 1991. The work in the library consists of a large pyramid, cylinder and cube that stand on the floor, all chalkboard-surfaced and intended for members of the campus community to write reflections on them.
After graduating from Hope with a degree in sculpture and drawing, Saurer went on to complete an MFA in sculpture at Colorado State University. He has taught sculpture, drawing and printmaking at St. Olaf College, where he is an associate professor of art, since 1995. He has had work featured in exhibitions around the country as well as in both Argentina and Mexico.
As a Hope student he was actively involved in the department, working part-time during the school year as the student gallery manager and also full-time during the summers as a studio assistant to sculptor Bill Mayer of the Hope art faculty.
"It was just the most wonderful opportunity," Saurer said of his experience as a student. "I had this awesome education both in the classroom and studio and outside the classroom and studio. It was just absolutely priceless."
The lessons have served him well, he noted, now that he is teaching art at a liberal arts college himself, and add extra meaning to his latest Hope installation.
"Now I'm the one providing those experiences that I enjoyed so much at Hope," Saurer said. "To have been at Hope College and be so involved and have such a wonderful education, and then to be invited back, it feels like things continue to go in big circles that make a lot of sense."