Skip to main content

Metal is the medium for aspiring sculptor

Arts Jun 7, 2022
A student and faculty member in masks weld a metal car frame sculpture.
A student and faculty member in masks weld a metal car frame sculpture.

KOKOMO, Ind. —When most people think of art supplies, they think of paint and brushes, or sketchpads and pencils.

Metal pieces from a scrap yard probably don’t come to mind.

For Indiana University Kokomo senior Cybil Johnson, the salvage yard is her supplier, as she creates life sized — and sometimes larger-than-life sculptures, as part of an independent study class.

It’s nothing like what she expected when she began working on her degree in New Media, Art, and Technology (NMAT), planning to be a high school art teacher.

“I thought I was going to be working with clay, and I was obsessed with the potter’s wheel,” the Kokomo resident said. “My plans have changed night and day. Now I use metal, and I want to be a professor.”

Johnson’s inspiration came from a summer class she took with Gregory Steel, associate professor of fine arts, that started with a visit to a scrap yard, with an assignment to build a five-foot metal sculpture.

“I was like, ‘I don’t even know how to weld,’” she said. “But I fell in love with it the minute the heat went on, with the sound, the noise, and how labor-intensive this work is. I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

After the first class, she took independent study courses in metal sculpture, continuing to hone her craft. She appreciates being able to work with Steel, a well-respected sculptor.

“He lets me do what I want, but he’s very good at pointing out visual things that didn’t work well,” she said. “It’s nice to have someone you look forward to sharing your work with, because he’s as excited about it as I am.”

Steel said sculpture is one of the more difficult artistic mediums, requiring a lot of time, effort, money, and determination.

“It was very hard in the beginning,” he said, adding that he kept telling her to just do the work, and it would tell her what to do.

“A lot of people shy away from it, but she’s unique in this world, which will help make her successful,” Steel said. “I have no doubt in the world she’s going to do it. She’s on a tear now. You can’t stop her. The work is telling her what she needs to do. She’s finally seeing that as truth. It’s changed her quite a bit.”

Every day this summer, Johnson is in the Fine Arts Building, creating a new series investigating the idea of intimidation.

“I want to build giant, tall things,” she said. “I’m using fire, which is intimidating, and so is metal. I want to depict something that shakes you and makes you step back. It’s above you, and you have to look up, and it has texture, because I put spikes on it. It makes you question what you find intimidating.”

She has her first piece, an eight-foot spinning metal egg made from car parts, displayed in her yard, and has sold a few pieces as well.  Johnson’s goal is to submit work for the Kokomo Sculpture Walk before she graduates in May 2023, and then to continue to a master’s degree program.

Her most recent piece was a collaboration with Steel to build a metal car frame, that was displayed at the Kokomo Strawberry Festival. Another local artist invited those attending to create macramé art, to cover the frame.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to do something like this, with a professor who has been so influential for me,” she said. “People hear that I build with metal, and they aren’t sure what to expect. This piece is more realistic than what I usually make, so people can understand it.”

She was also happy to have her three daughters — ages 5, 2, and 5 months old — see her work, so they can understand what she does when she’s away from home at school.

“You have to show them how to conquer your dreams,” Johnson said. “I really want to show them that no matter how unreachable your goals may seem, you can do it.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

More stories

A group of teenagers holding certificates
IU Kokomo