The Fine Art of Bike Racks
The Fine Art of Bike Racks
designed by L. Kathryn Staley M.Ed. '92 Ph.D. ‘02 (pictured above)
fabricated by students in the Sculpture Workshop of the Department of Art and Art History
installed in summer 2014 near Hewitt Hall
dedicated to the memory of Michael McConnell, UNH professor emeritus of art
Upon hearing of the UNH bike rack project, I set out to capture what it feels like to ride a bike. The flow of air on my face. The freedom to fly, to flaunt gravity. This sculpture represents that freedom. Measuring 18’ by 11’, the streamers are shaped from quarter-inch-thick aluminum and ground to a burnished-silver finish.
This piece is a direct descendent of the sculpture that accompanied my dissertation about the importance of allowing learners to use multiple literacies. Throughout my studies, I worked with art professor Michael McConnell to explore my philosophy of education in metal sculpture.
For many, riding a bike brings forth feelings of freedom. May all learners feel that joy.
—L. Kathryn Staley
Space Elephant Protein
designed by Andy Upton B.F.A. ‘15
Subconscious drawings of interweaving lines that cover my notebooks are what gave this bike rack its interweaving structure. Approaching this process as a sculpture solely, and then working backwards to make it functional is what drove its unconventional size and form. I wanted to make this bike rack interactive, charismatic, but also mysterious instead of the standard one liner bike racks that we are all accustomed to. I used the model of students rebelling against the standard bike rack by hooking bikes to trees and other freestanding objects as a source of inspiration for my functionality. I couldn’t have made this bike rack without the help of Ben Cariens, Adam Pearson, and the entirety of the Fall 2014 Metal Fabrication class.—Andy Upton
designed by Rebecca Emerson-Brown B.F.A. ‘15
I was intrigued by the idea of making a functional and simple bike rack that was still interesting to look at. The visual images of sound waves recalled to me the round wheels and their motion, fluid on the road. Circles moving through space and time became the central idea of the piece. Bright colors added a playfulness to the piece and is a departure from the standard, grey metal of conventional bike racks.
designed by Kayla M. Granoff B.A. ‘14
In my work I tend to gravitate towards themes of nature, architecture, and the relationship between them. I am constantly interested in the rebuttal of nature amongst man's static creations. I use simple moments of life growing upon concrete forms to fuel my visions for sculpture; a tree trunk extruding out of fence links, a seedling through a sidewalk, a vine gripping the façade of a building. Nature, although seemingly triumphed by structure and material, remains unyielding and aggressive in its ability to reclaim and encompass land and space.
Photo by Jeremy Gasowski.
New public sculptures have been popping up on campus in recent months. They are artistic creations with a utilitarian purpose—to hold bicycles.
The bike racks are the brainchild of Ken Fuld, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. While visiting Des Moines, Iowa, a few years ago, Fuld admired the sculptural bike racks he saw around the city.
“I loved them, especially the whimsical nature,” Fuld recalls. “Given UNH’s emphasis on sustainability and being a bike-friendly campus, in combination with what at the time was a dearth of public art on campus, I thought ‘wouldn’t it be great to have these kinds of sculptural bike racks all over campus?’”
He pitched the idea to Jennifer Moses, chair of the Department of Art and Art History who also sits on the campus aesthetics committee. She recommended he talk to art professor Ben Cariens who teaches courses in metal fabrication, with the thought that Cariens might incorporate the project into his coursework. Cariens was enthused to get his students involved. Campus Planning’s Steve Pesci came on board. A committee was formed, and the planning commenced.
Fast forward two years and the first set of student-created sculptures—four in all—are ready to go. Three have already been installed, outside Paul Creative Arts Center, Morse Hall, and Hewitt Hall. A fourth sculpture, composed of three separate racks, is scheduled for installation near Conant Hall at the end of October.
Though the bike rack committee originally envisioned 4-6 foot “artistic bike racks” rather than large sculptures, the final racks are on the larger scale of public art. That’s because Cariens worked with his students to create sculpture first and bike racks second. He didn’t want students using the standard bike rack design as a starting point because, he says, they might be tempted to make only slight modifications to that design and not explore more interesting possibilities.
“I had the students design from an abstract position and then back into making bike racks,” says Cariens. “I had them do drawings and sketches and models based on adjectives they chose. For example, I want something dynamic. I want something bulbous. I want something heavy.”
Once the students fully developed their ideas, only then did they work into a design that would accommodate bicycles. The results are compelling sculptures that also function as bike racks.
The project has provided unique learning opportunities for students, according to Cariens. Public sculpture requires a dialogue with stakeholders. Artists often work in solitude, so pitching their artistic choices—as these students had to do to the committee—is a skill that most don’t get a chance to develop.
“Another fantastic aspect of the project was to have students develop their work into a specific function,” says Cariens. “In the arts, we often teach it as though it’s free of functionality. It’s in service to no thing other than itself. But public sculpture is a place where there’s a conversation between your artistic ideal and the communal or public need or desire for that piece.”
The project also allowed students to build on a larger scale than they had previously. With some sculptures at 11 feet, the designs required not only new metal-bending equipment to handle the size, but also new ways of thinking about the designs as the artists transitioned from 12-inch models to full size.
Both Fuld and Cariens are hopeful that this first set of sculptures is just the beginning. Each offering of Cariens’s course holds the promise of new and creative student ideas. “I’d like to see several iterations of this so that we eventually have sculptural bike racks all over campus,” says Fuld. With no shortage of traditional bike racks on campus—around 250—there is plenty of opportunity to create aesthetically pleasing sculptures to take their place.