Fritts Center sculpture perfect for fall -- and for its student artist's spring forward

Jesús Nava stands under his artwork.View print quality image
Jesús Nava stands under his sculpture "Changing of Seasons," which was installed in the Dr. Lloyd and Jan Hagedorn Main Street common space of the Fritts Clinical Care Center at the School of Dentistry. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

Like the fortune of finding the perfect autumn leaf on the ground, budding careers can be shaped by chance.

Sculpture senior Jesús Nava considered leaving his Herron School of Art and Design program before a phone call regarding his recent piece "Changing of Seasons" reignited his artistic drive.

A detail shot of "Change of Seasons"View print quality image
This detail shot shows five of the 11 aluminum-sheet maple leaves created by sculpture senior Jesús Nava. Photo by Liz Kaye, Indiana University

A year ago, the new James J. Fritts, DDS Clinical Care Center at the Indiana University School of Dentistry was looking for some art for a large common space. John Hoffman, assistant dean of development for the dental school, saw Nava's work coming down after being on display for months in University Library and inquired about the sculpture, which consists of 11 5-foot-by-5-foot aluminum-sheet maple leaves curled and hung from the ceiling. The piece has been in the Fritts Clinical Center since September.

"Before John Hoffman reached out, I was taking a break from school and planning on not returning," Nava revealed. "I didn't think my work was strong enough, and I didn't think people appreciated it. He got me to come back to school and finish my career here."

"Changing of Seasons" now dangles from the ceiling of the Dr. Lloyd and Jan Hagedorn Main Street common space, the first-floor area that connects the Fritts Clinical Center to the older dentistry building.

Hoffman said most of the artwork in the Fritts Clinical Center was curated and donated by alumnus Dr. R. Stephen Lehman, a Carmel prosthodontist, photographer and respected art collector. Photographs from Lehman's collection were installed throughout the Fritts Clinical Center. But the Main Street area that has become the spot for receptions, reunions and other School of Dentistry events needed one more piece.

"We wanted art in here, but we didn't want to clutter the walls. We wanted to keep it open," Hoffman said. "We wanted to do something in here to warm it up and make it inviting. Frankly, I've noticed more students congregating in here since these went up.

"I'd like to drive traffic through here for purposes other than dentistry, just to highlight the building."

One marvelous maple leaf

Trying to fulfill a sculpture class assignment, Nava only had to look to the sidewalk of his southside Indianapolis neighborhood to find inspiration. A holder of an associate degree in photography, he discovered the "perfect" maple leaf, took a picture and worked on a design using Photoshop while balancing a full-time job and class load.

For the first leaf, Nava projected his digital design to an aluminum sheet. He cut out the shape with a handsaw before creating texture on the metal with sandpaper. He curved parts of the leaf and its stem to mimic the curling of a crunchy autumn leaf.

Lastly, he designed how the leaves would "fall" by hanging them at different angles. The collection of leaves looks different from every angle, and it successfully evokes the calmness of falling leaves.

"I'm trying to bring nature inside the building," Nava explained. "Everyone can relate to nature in a way."

Fantastic in Fritts

Hoffman said he had no idea about Nava's wavering university experience. He simply happened to be passing through University Library last December when "Changing of Seasons" was being taken down.

"When I saw them, I said, 'I have the perfect place for those,' " Hoffman recalled. "I knew the silver scheme would match the tones in here. It's a great enhancement for the area and the building."

With the Fritts Clinical Center opening in early 2018, Hoffman quickly saw the need for some three-dimensional art in IUPUI's newest building. The sculpture looks at home, whether viewed from underneath, from above through a second-floor window or from outside in the building's courtyard.

The honorarium from the "Changing of Seasons" purchase has gone to Nava's remaining tuition, and the sculpture will hang in the Fritts Center for many seasons to come.

"I fall in love every time I walk in here," Nava said with a smile.