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Commemorative Art

Future sculpture will go up
at Madison Bicentennial Park

Ohio artist Major says it will showcase Madison’s history

(August 2018) – The long-awaited Madison, Ind., Bicentennial Sculpture is coming to life. Ohio sculptor Mike Major has completed work on three figurines and sent them to the foundry for casting. Clay work for the collages on the outside of the smokestack is done and the pieces are drying. The location has been finalized. Site preparation is being planned by the city engineer.

Photo provided

Ohio sculptor Mike Major was selected to create the Madison Bicentennial sculpture of which this rendering depicts. It will soon go up at the Bicentennial Park entrance.

The 68-year-old Major began work on the unique sculpture in June after being chosen as the winning sculptor by the Madison Bicentennial Legacy Gift Committee, chaired by Jan Vetrhus. The design celebrates Indiana “firsts,” such as the first railroad, first state bank, first volunteer fire department, as well as the steamboats, hydroplanes, pork packing industry and cultural arts that have defined Madison’s rich history. The sculpture will be located at the north entrance to Madison Bicentennial Park.
The three figurines include two children and a piglet. The piglet is symbolic of the importance of the pork packing industry in Madison’s early history. At that time, according to legends, pigs sometimes could be found running loose on the streets of Madison. In this sculpture, the pigs are represented playfully, with a piglet seated on a bench reading to a small boy and girl. 
The piglet and the two children are being cast in bronze using the lost wax method. In this method, a mold is made of the original sculpture. Then wax is used to coat the inside of the mold, creating a wax copy of the sculpture. That wax copy is surrounded with a stucco-like material to create a strong ceramic shell.
The shell is hardened by the heat of a kiln, and the wax runs out – thus, the “lost wax method.” The shell is reheated so that it doesn’t crack when filled with the molten bronze. Each sculpture is molded in three to four separate pieces. When the sculpture is assembled, it is carefully finished with a dremel tool to remove seams and casting marks.
The bench will be constructed of industrial strength plastic boards made of recycled materials, Major said. At eight feet long, this bench is made with plenty of room for residents and visitors to sit down for a photograph beside the children and the piglet. The placement of the sculpture is also perfect for photographs, since it will welcome both residents and visitors in the spacious north entrance of Bicentennial Park.

Photo provided

A clay cast piglet is among the images being made to adorn the Madison Bicentennial sculpture, which will commemorate the town’s pork industry history.

The park and riverfront provide a scenic backdrop for the sculpture. The sculpture will also be visible from the intersection of Main and West streets, since West Street provides a corridor down to the park.
“It is a 360-degree visual history of Madison that starts with the river and ends with the arts at the top,” Vetrhus said. The Indiana “firsts” will be illustrated by three-dimensional collages on the outside of a 15-foot-tall smokestack, reminiscent of the steamboat history. The Jefferson County Historical Society provided many old photographs to Major as inspiration for the collage designs. The smokestack is made of industrial clay sewer pipe that uses very dry, dense clay, extruded under intense hydraulic pressure. Since it is normally manufactured to withstand the elements for many years, it is just the right material for a permanent structure that will not be damaged by the weather, Major said.
The finished sculpture is designed for people to be seen with it, sit on it and be photographed with it. It seems so simple since it is a recycled plastic park bench and a smokestack made of sewer tile. With Major’s artistic talents, Madison’s history has come to life with two children, a reading piglet and a tower of ceramic collages. Major said he finds it “delightful to take a utilitarian object like sewer tile and make it a beautiful sculpture.” He has never done anything quite like it before. “It is fun to take risks, as the root of creativity is risk-taking,” he said.
Major is a native of Pleasant Hill, Ohio, who now resides and works in Urbana, Ohio. He studied at the Dayton Art Institute. His art education continued at Ohio University. During graduate school at the Pratt Institute in New York in the 1970s and ’80s, he found a job in a publishing company using his graphic design skills. That early training later proved useful, even as he focused more intently on his art. Drawings progressed to paintings, then to printmaking in his master’s program. He later served as the Ohio “artist in residence” for the Ohio Arts Council, which led to a career as a fulltime artist.

Major was selected from a pool of many artists who submitted proposals for the Madison Bicentennial Legacy Gift sculpture, Vetrhus said.

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