Lair of the Bugbear

13 Nov
Walk into the Campanella Gallery in McAfee Library, and you will be faced with a pile of metal junk. Weapons. Doors. Wheels. Anchors. Most pieces rusted or tarnished. Some twisted and melted beyond recognition. This is the lair of the Bugbear, the Scandinavian version of the boogey man.

“I imagine the Bugbear as a forest creature who loves to collect shiny things, like a raccoon,” said Michael Wickerson, creator of Bugbear: Findings And Castings. “These are all things you might find in his lair.”

The exhibit, though it carries Wickerson’s name, is a collaboration of many people. The metal pieces of the collection were metal-cast by Wickerson, students from Shawnee Mission High School and Kansas City Art Institute, and Wickerson’s colleagues.

“Each piece has a story for me,” said Wickerson. “This piece [an iron thumb] was made by me for my wife, while I was in the woods. This [a metal wheel] was made by a student who didn’t know what to make, so I told her to draw a wheel in the sand and cast it. And this [a brass figure] was brought to me to to fix, but the owner never came back.”

Each item is placed according to whim, and Wickerson rearranges as he speaks during the reception. He hides “morbid” pieces, such as a miner’s hat with a skull instead of a light, and brings special pieces forward. He spreads the items out and then compacts them back in. As he speaks and arranges, Wickerson resembles the Bugbear, obsessed with his shiny stash.

Though he loves every piece, he is in the process of gifting pieces of the exhibit away to friends and strangers. “Why keep it around? Why do I feel the need to see it every day? Even if I give it away, it’s not gone. Even if they throw it away, it’s not gone. It’s in a landfill or the ocean, and it’ll be around for hundreds of years,” he said.

Wickerson became interested in sculpture when he was a math and physics major at York University in Canada. Eventually, he received a degree in art and is now a professor at Kansas City Art Institute. He is hoping to create a partnership with Park University, to bring hot metal casting to Park students.

The display is what Wickerson calls “dead sculpture,” because the pieces are not being utilized. However, he plans on taking some pieces – such as the large bells – back to his property after the exhibit is over.

“I named each bell for a woman in my family,” he said. “I put their names and birth years on each one. One bell says ‘Wickerson 2009’ because I was sure my baby was going to be a girl named Isabel. But it was a boy, we named him Oscar, and now I call it the Isaboy bell.”

Each piece was created using “hot casting” – heating metal up to 2500 degrees and pouring into a handmade mold. This is a more dangerous technique than “cold casting,” which is used for concrete and other non-metal casting. Wickerson says he loves hot casting because it’s more exciting.

“The metal can actually splash back up,” said Wickerson. “It can go through our leather suits. It’s hot enough to melt bone. And I’ve gotten it in my mouth twice! It’s not something I ever want to happen again,” he said.

Wickerson’s next move is creating a simple forge on his home property powered by windmill energy. He says he wants to get back to a simpler time. He also loves the social aspect of this form of art – an art that requires two or more people to pour the metal to create a piece.

You can see Bugbear’s lair for yourself every day in the Campanella Gallery through Wednesday, November 25 2009.

Published in The Stylus Newspaper, 13 November 2009

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