Math, art merge in sculptures

September 30, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

He's right-brained and left-brained -- a technological artist who brings mathematical theorems to life in the form of stone and bronze sculptures.

In the basement and garage of his North Laurel home, Helaman Ferguson -- a research mathematician at the Super Computing Research Center, a private think tank in Bowie -- combines the use of hammer and chisel with computer technology to craft his artwork.

"Through Helaman's work, you can see how similar art and math are," said Joanne Gigliotti, director of the Studio Arts Department of Smithsonian Associates, which invited Mr. Ferguson to lecture Wednesday at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Mr. Ferguson and his wife of 31 years, Claire, the author of a large book about his work, "Helaman Ferguson: Mathematics in Stone and Bronze," will deliver the slide- and video-illustrated lecture.

The former professor at Brigham Young University in Utah has worked much of his life to merge art and mathematics. "The whole point of him doing all of these sculptures was to help people see the beauty of mathematics," Mrs. Ferguson said.

Mr. Ferguson's North Laurel home of the past six years is his studio. His statues can be found in almost every room of the house.

In the garage, which has been soundproofed so that his neighbors aren't disturbed by his drilling and carving, he keeps computers that he uses to design his sculptures and guide his precise carving. He designed one of the machines with scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Mr. Ferguson's statues always are based on some type of mathematical theorem. One of his works, "Double Torus Stonehenge," shows how two links can be undone without ever opening them.

Mr. Ferguson, 54, who was born in Salt Lake City, said he `D inherited his artistic traits from his parents, who were both artists. But he never knew much about them, since both died when he was a child.

A stonemason adopted Mr. Ferguson when he was 3 years old and later made him an apprentice. Mr. Ferguson also demonstrated a penchant for mathematics that earned him a scholarship to Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.

In the early 1970s, after earning a graduate degree in sculpting and a doctorate in mathematics, Mr. Ferguson pulled the two disciplines together. "Something between my left and right brain dissolved at that time," Mr. Ferguson said.

Many of his works are in university collections. They sell for thousands of dollars each, he said, adding with a laugh, "We like to eat, so we generally sell them for as much as possible."

The prices of his sculptures depend mainly on the amount of time it takes for him to make them. That can be as long as a year and a half, with a minimum of a 40-hour workweek. That's in addition to his full-time research post.

He balances all of that with having seven children, two of whom still live at home.

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