The Artist

Statement about the Artist

The art historian Herbert Read saw the mathematician as an abstract artist “except that he does not posess, or has he cultivated, the ability to express his conceptions in a plastic material.” Ferguson is exactly that abstract artist who fully posesses and has cultivated his ability to express his mathematical conceptions as sculpture. He has discovered the common ground of mathematics and art upon which he has placed his own creativity. –Richard Waller, Director of the Marsh Art Gallery, University of Richmond, Virginia.

lifthelamanThree part artist’s statement in the first person.

  1. How I was motivated to become a sculptor:
    I suppose I generate evidence of life in the face of death. My natural father was a visual artist, my natural mother a model in an art school in Los Angeles. I was born in Salt Lake City, located on high arid mountain plateau. My mother was killed by lightning when I was three, my father drafted into the Pacific theater of World War II. Life has risks for all of us. My adopted father was an Irish stone mason, my adopted mother from colonies in northern Mexico, they graciously raised me in upstate New York. My genetic nature was art and science, my environmental nurture was learning to work with my hands and to appreciate raw materials of little apparent value. As a kid I was pretty raw myself. As I went through the New York Regents public school system in the post Sputnik era I had many opportunities to study science. I chose to do creative math in a liberal arts college rather than an engineering school. Our society tends to compartmentalize people and professions, maybe with good reasons. Overcoming this compartmentalization has been a continuing battle for me.I refuse to be diminished by being described as just a mathematician, by being described as just a sculptor–I persist in both. Fortunately for me our society is diverse enough to permit both.
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  3. What I can share about my creative process:
    At this moment I see two parts, mental and physical. It is important to me that they are hard to separate. Mental: Mathematics, its ideas, symbols, and equations are an essential part of my personal design language. Much of my sculptural body of work celebrates the remarkable achievements of mathematics as an abstract art form–a human activity spanning thousands of years. These ideas combined with my tools and materials take the form of an undeniable will. Physical: my aesthetic choice of raw materials tends to be stone from geological activity spanning millions of years. It is very exciting for me to learn a new stone, I have one now, one billion years old, waiting for me to stop writing here. I use many different kinds of specialized tools, including computers, virtual image projection from equations, tool position and orientation monitoring, air hammers and drills, carbide cutters, diamond corers and saws, diamond chains, cables, pulleys, hydraulic rams, gantry cranes. This is a high risk environment of air, electricity, water, dust, and chips which calls for special breathing apparatus, vision and hearing protection, various kinds of body armor and insulation. Definitely postmodern man. I use hammer and chisel too, but while a lot has changed, it is the same as when our ancestors banged a soft rock with a hard rock and made a magical form. My mathematical forms arrive by my subtractive process: my computer tool position and orientation monitoring system does not do the cutting work, I do. The system gives me quantitative information. I want it this way because I learn the mathematical form which no one has ever seen, touched, felt, walked around, or crawled through. This learning from computed quantitative information is like learning a piece of music or choreographic sequence by heart, having learned the new form it becomes part of my sculptural repertoire, independently now of the computer system. My studio is a door or canal through which mathematically designed things take form in geological materials.
  4. Risks cause communities to respond in ways not necessarily convenient for individual members of those communities. My family heritage is of pioneers and colonizers, indeed I have found it important to leave the colonies of my origins and take up residence in older more deeply rooted communities, which can support my work in emotional as well as material ways. Even so, carving stone, even with computers as I do, involves operating in a harsh environment. In the process of carving stone I undo, by violence, millions of years of geological material forming processes. With each new stone I carve I learn how to undo its geology and at the same time to convolve it with mathematical ideas. What worthless looking rocks await my hand and mind to transform them to beautiful and irresistible artifacts with my imprint of timeless mathematical theorems?

Selected Education:
A.B., Liberal Arts, 1962, Hamilton College, Clinton, New York; Ph.D., Mathematics, 1971, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Selected Collections:
Universtiy of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota; Center for Communications Research, La Jolla, California; American Center for Physics, College Park, Maryland; Smith College, Burton Science Center, Northampton, Massachusetts; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Reston, Virginia; University of California at Berkeley, Mathematical Sciences Research Center, Berkeley, California; Mount Holyoke College, Williston Library, South Hadley, Massachusetts; Springer-Verlag Publishing, Heidelberg, Germany; United States Congress, former Office of Technology Assesment, Washington, D.C.; University of California at San Fransisco, Library on Parnussus, San Francisco, California; University of Minnesota, Frederick R. Weisman Art Musem and Mathematics Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Syracuse University, Mathematics Department, Syracuse, New York; Daiichi Pure Chemical Corporation, Tokyo, Japan; Mathematical Association of America, Washington, D.C.; American Mathematical Society, Providence, Rhode Island.

Selected Solo Exhibitions:
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona; Utica College of Syracuse University, Utica, New York; Hamilton College, Clinton, New York; University of Richmond, Virginia; New York Academy of Sciences, Manhattan, New York, New York; Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Mathematical Associaiton of America, Polya Building, Washington, D.C.; Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.

Selected Group Exhibitions:
Buckminster Fuller Memorial, Cathedral of St. John the Divine-Pratt Institute, New York, New York; Montpelier Cultural Arts Center, Maryland; Marlboro Gallery, Prince George Community College, Maryland; Smithsonian Institution, Washingtonn, D.C.; Ancorage Musem of History and Art, Anchorage, Alaska; Universidad de Salamanca, Faculdad de Bellas Artes, Salamanca, Spain; Instituto de Estudios Norteamericanos, Barcelona, Spain; Adelaide Festival Center, Adelaide, Australia; Computer Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

Selected Bibliography:
Ivars Peterson, “The Song in the Stone,” Science News, February 17, 1996, cover article; Gold Ink and Ozzie Award winning book by Claire Ferguson, HELAMAN FERGUSON:Mathematics in Stone and Bronze, published by Meridian Creative Group, Erie, Pennsylvania, 1994; James Cannon, “Mathematics in Marble and Bronze: the Sculpture of Helaman Rolfe Pratt Ferguson,” Mathematical Intelligencer, Springer-Verlag, January 1991 cover article; Ivars Peterson, “Equations in Stone,” Science News,September 8, 1990, cover article; Itsuo Sakane, “Heso no O-Umbilic Torus,” Kaleidoscope of Form, Poetry of Science and Art, Kagaku Asahi, Asahi Shimbun, October 1989. JonasKover, Utica Observer Dispatch; Mike Guiliano, Laurel Leader; Christine Devaney, Columbia Magazine; Barry Cipra, SIAM News, and SCIENCE.

Available Books:
Gold Ink and Ozzie Award winning book by Claire Ferguson, HELAMAN FERGUSON:Mathematics in Stone and Bronze, published by Meridian Creative Group, Erie, Pennsylvania, 1994;