Giant fish unveiled

A 7-foot ceramic fish wowed more than 100 people who watched its fiery debut June 26 on the edge of East Carolina University’s campus.

A nearly two-week, laborious process culminated at nightfall when ECU students pulled back the walls of a giant kiln that had held the sculpture at its peak firing temperature – 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. The work crew hugged each other, joined arms and bowed to a clapping crowd after the unveiling.

“This was a testament to everybody putting together their resources, time and talent,” said Seo Eo, associate professor of art in the ECU School of Art and Design. “Our students, their effort and ingenuity, are amazing. It was true teamwork and I really want to congratulate them.”

The project gave students practical and technical experience working on a much larger piece than they are used to, said Adam Landman, an ECU alumnus and project manager of STARworks Center for Creative Enterprise. STARworks, a not-for-profit arts incubator in Star, North Carolina, has created three other large fire sculptures and loaned ECU its kiln and expertise on the project.

“It’s a great way to spread the value of art across the state,” Landman said.

Often ceramic artists work behind closed doors in studios. “This brings it out in the open,” he said. “It’s a way to bring art performance to the community.”

Rising ECU junior Grace Joyner of Rocky Mount drove to the unveiling after following the team’s progress on Facebook. She plans to teach and is majoring in art education with a concentration in ceramics. “Kiln building is something I’ll be doing next semester so I wanted to see this,” she said.

The sculpture was made possible by the ECU Ceramics Guild, which raised approximately $4,500 for the project, in collaboration with STARworks and the School of Art and Design in ECU’s College of Fine Arts and Communication.

Graduate student Abir Abumohsen designed the fish, inspired by ECU’s coastal location. “I’ve never done a sculpture that big before,” she said. “It’s a completely different experience. It’s kind of like a community project.”

Joining Abumohsen on the project were graduate research assistants Devin McKim, Alexandra Ingle and Brett Beasley and ECU faculty member Jim Tisnado.

Undergraduate assistants were Heather Graham, Brooke Van Onselder, Taylor Meadows and Chris Cardone, who led the ceramics guild fundraising efforts for the project. Anne Pärtna and Andres Allik were engineering consultants for the project.

Only 12 hours after the artwork was unveiled, the fish broke as students and faculty prepared to move it. None of it was salvaged.

“While the sculpture sustained some damage, the unveiling event was still spectacular, and we feel we succeeded without any incidents at the site,” Eo said. “Studying the damages on Saturday, (we discovered) it was caused by the shortened schedule in build and drying time due to the delay in site preparation.”

The artists initially planned to set up on June 14 but couldn’t get on site until June 17, which cost four days in the process. “We were hopeful and did our best to dry the sculpture, but in the end, we just did not have enough drying time,” Eo said.

While the sculpture won’t be displayed outside the Jenkins Fine Arts Center as planned, Eo said the effort wasn’t in vain. “This was a great learning experience.”

—Crystal Baity, ECU News Services

Above: Abir Abumohsen’s model serves as a reference while ECU students and faculty construct a seven-foot tall FireFish.

Students Savor Studies in Sharjah

Eight art and design majors journeyed to the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates for two weeks in March. They worked with Sharjah students to create a large wheat paste mural that featured themes of community, communication and culture. They also spent time exploring the desert, museums and galleries, ascending the world’s tallest building and learning about Arabic food and culture.
The exchange, facilitated by printmaking professors Heather Muise and Matthew Egan, was in response to five students and two faculty members from Sharjah that visited ECU’s campus in November.
Abir Abumohsen, a master’s of fine arts degree candidate studying ceramics, said that meeting students from Sharjah at ECU in the fall created an instant connection. “When I got there, it was nice to see them again,” she said.
ECU students brought work and mounted a collaborative exhibition with University of Sharjah students. Abumohsen exhibited mixed media drawings that explored the Muslim female image in social media. Graduate student Emily Branch brought landscape work.
MFA painting candidate Andrew Wells exhibited two large charcoal drawings that explore relationships with social media. “They were big and satirical images,” he said. “There were a lot of comments about them from students and professors.”
Wells said that attending classes in Sharjah was similar to attending classes at ECU. “The professors have their little quirks and sayings,” he explained. “It’s like you never left the U.S. Students still pull out their phones during class.”
In addition to attending classes, ECU students offered presentations about their work and offered workshops. Wells used a series of 40 drawings to demonstrate stop motion animation, ultimately crushing a chicken with a rock. “You have to keep people entertained,” he explained. Abumohsen taught hand-building techniques in clay.
For Muise and Egan, sharing the Middle East with others has been a mission. Muise first worked in Sharjah after she graduated. She and Egan have returned repeatedly over the years, including two years of service during which they took a leave of absence from East Carolina. “It’s our mission to facilitate cultural exchange between ECU and the United Arab Emirates,” Muise explained. “We know everybody in arts academia there, so it works to our advantage.”
“It was an amazing opportunity,” Wells said. “Having teachers who know the place, you got to interact with locals and students who are living there on such an intimate level. We went to a lot of their shows.”
Abumohsen moved to the U.S. from Gaza when she was 12. “I grew up in a part of the middle east that was so destroyed,” she said. “It was exciting to be going to a place where there was so much advancement.” Fittingly, her artistic work is about building bridges between the West and East.
Branch says that because her generation grew up in the shadow of 9/11, she’s searching for a deeper understanding. “I wanted us to be good examples of Americans. The Middle East sees lots of negative images of Americans, just as Americans see lots of negative images of the Middle East. Now, I think we have a better understanding.”
Muise says her ultimate goal is to facilitate semester-long exchanges between the two universities and cultures.
In addition to engaging in campus life, ECU students went offroad in the desert, surfed sand dunes on snowboards, saw a falcon show, rode camels, experienced bellydancing and walked around the mall of Dubai. The trip was timed to experience the Sharjah Biennial, a festival that invited 50 artists from 25 countries to introduce their ideas of “the possible” through their art.
“The world is so small,” said Wells. “There are other places I could go, but going there, actually going and seeing, it completely changed everything.”

Chamber Singers Land International Win

The Chamber Singers won the 13th International Maribor Choral Competition Gallus in Maribor, Slovenia in April. They were the only American choir invited to participate.
The competition is part of the European Grand Prix for Choral Singing, a “contest of contests,” that is organized annually by one of the member organizations: Concorso Polifonico Guido d’Arezzo in Arezzo, Italy; Béla Bartók International Choral Competition in Debrecen, Hungary; Florilège Vocal de Tours, France; the G. Dimitrov May Choir Competition in Varna, Bulgaria; the Certamen Coral de Tolosa in Basque Country, Spain and the Maribor competition.
The singers were extended an invitation to compete as a result of their second place finish at the Tolosa International Choral Contest in Spain last year.
“Singing in the Chamber Singers is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Caroline Vaughn, a senior vocal performance major. “I love being a part of this small-ensemble teamwork experience.”
The 36-member group carried 11 works in their repertory for three days of performance and competition. At the opening concert, each of the 12 competing choirs performed two selections from their native country in their native language. The Chamber Singers performed “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from the Broadway musical Gypsy and “My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord,” a Moses Hogan-arranged spiritual.
“That concert was not judged and the intent was to show who we are as a culture,” said Tim Messina, an undergraduate vocal performance major. “You don’t get more American than Broadway and spirituals.”
On the following day, the choir performed twice. “After the first performance, we were exhausted,” Messina explained. “But we hyped ourselves up and ended up performing the next four songs better than we’d ever performed them. If we didn’t make it, we were winners to ourselves.”
The singers credit their studies, time spent singing together and their leadership. “Dr. Crane expects us to work hard and do our homework, but also to look for things to fix. That humility set us apart,” Vaughn said. “We were just there to sing. This is who we are as Americans and as ECU students.”
Kimberly Ness, a master’s of music degree candidate studying choral conducting, said that the quality of the Chambers Singers isn’t derived solely from the voices in the ensemble. “It’s not each singer’s individual ability as much as our collective ability to read music and rehearse efficiently. The repertoire we prepared for Slovenia we learned in one semester, and it was the hardest rep we’ve learned yet.”
“That’s what makes the Chamber Singers special,” Vaughn said. “It’s a group of people where everyone has the same feeling about music and dedication to it.”
The Chamber Singers were the last choir announced into the final five. Ness said she didn’t think the ensemble would make the cut because the judges had already announced a mixed ensemble as a finalist.
“The European judges were listening for a specific type of sound,” Vaughn said, “but then I realized that this was actually happening.”
At the final concert on April 12, the Chamber Singers performed Petr Eben’s “Cantico delle Creature,” Eriks Esenvalds’ “Heavens’ Flock” and a work by Claude Debussy in Latvian. Their performance bested a youth choir from Latvia by 0.3 points. The other three finalists represented Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden.
The ensemble received a 2500 Euro cash prize and will be invited to participate in the 2016 European Grand Prix for Choral Singing competition in Varna, Bulgaria.
The ECU Chamber Singers consists of auditioned undergraduate and graduate students, and is the select choral ensemble at ECU. They maintain a rigorous rehearsal and performance schedule, and focus predominantly on unaccompanied choral literature suitable for advanced chamber choir.
See the winning performance at

Prof Teaches Robotics, Automates Ugandan Farm

Carl Twarog (center), professor of Animation/Interactive Design, spent the month of January in Uganda in the service of Oysters and Pearls, a not-for-profit organization that integrates technology and science in schools that are inclusive of the blind and supportive of opportunities for women in education.
During a two-week Ugandan summer break, 70 high school students in Gulu were immersed in beginning or advanced robotics, engineering for the empowerment of women or business applications for the empowerment of the blind and visually impaired.
Twarog was a member of the advanced robotics team. He and his students lived at a Gulu high school and were actively engaged from 7:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. daily. “We had to take the computers away from students and make them go to their dormitories,” Twarog reported. “They would work all night if we let them.”
Students built models using bamboo, wood, banana leaves and water bottles. They milled printed circuit boards, created circuits and calculated voltages, and ultimately constructed an automated door closer, an automated fan system, a solar cooker, a solar traffic light, an automated water pump and a self-navigating automated car that relied on distance and sonar sensors.
The offering was the largest robotics camp in Ugandan history.
Organizers hope the knowledge and techniques created in Gulu can be replicated in Sudan and Rwanda.
In addition to robotics, Twarog served as a team member participating in farm automation projects through the Ugandan organization “Ideal Farmer’s Cooperative.” He installed and demonstrated prototypes for projects at select learning farms.
Using temperature probes, Twarog helped develop a feedback system to warn farmers of the onset of fermentation in silage. Because of the fragility of the food supply in the area, he also helped create an automated cooling system for milk cows. Since temperature spikes cause significant declines in milk production, Twarog’s automated system allows farmers to have flexibility in their work schedules, which will boost their productivity.
Twarog gained a few words in the local language, Acholi. He ran with an Olympic hopeful, bought passion fruit in the market, faced down a black spitting cobra in a lavatory and took a lot of photos.
“The children loved getting their pictures taken,” Twarog said. “I’d snap a shot and show it to them on the viewscreen.” Later, the professor would print the images and gift them to the subject’s mothers.

Students Stab, Bludgeon Safely

How does one stage a realistic rumpus without putting an eye out? With training.
Most of the cast members in the ECU/Loessin Playhouse production of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus had taken at least one stage combat class with professor Jill Carlson. “That’s very helpful in staging the mass battles in the show,” she said.
Undergraduates Cate Kessler (above with knife) and Robert DiDomenico served as Fight Captains for the production. Kessler holds certification in unarmed, dagger, broadsword and rapier combat with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD).
“Often in the professional arena the title ‘Fight Captain’ comes with a small pay bump,” said Carlson. “It is usually assigned to the cast member with the most fight experience by the Fight Director.” Kessler and DiDomenico have assisted Carlson in stage combat classes as teaching assistants.
Prior to the spring production, 22 students earned basic proficiency status with the SAFD through rigorous testing. Additionally, Anna Higginson, Jessica Ziebarth and Casey Scarboro received recommended passes. Kessler, DiDomenico, Clint Lienau, Cody Schauble and Andrew Jennings earned Actor/Combatant status.
In the play, Coriolanus returns from war as a hero and candidate for public office. When banished for making controversial statements about Roman commoners, he returns as a rebel leader, fighting with his native Rome.
Despite the widespread brawling, no one was harmed as the cast of 31 executed  battles and beheadings with theatrical aplomb.

Image by Jenni Farrow.

Disney Publishes Prof’s Latest Book

Gregory Funaro earned glowing reviews for his children’s book, “Alistair Grim’s Odditorium,” published in January by Hyperion/Disney. The professor of theatre published previously in the thriller genre, but changed focus following the birth of his daughter. Book two, “Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum,” is scheduled for release in spring 2016.

Artist Sells, Exhibits Via CB2

If you want to buy work by Dan Elliott (printmaking), check out Crate and Barrel’s CB2, a destination for great ideas and affordable unique art. The formerly-Chicago-based artist created and installed “Freedom Lies from Being Bold” in CB2’s South Beach, FL, store windows as a part of Art Basel Miami last December.
Elliott used abstract and expressive forms that connected typography to both art and design. The installation used hand-cut typographic stencils to expose sections of vintage road maps.
He describes his work in contradictory terms: clean/messy, clear/abstract, simple/complex.
Two of Elliott’s handprinted letterpress landscapes are available through CB2’s catalogue. The pair, “Off the Grid,” illustrate aerial view landscapes. One abstraction was inspired by a birds-eye view of midwestern snow, interrupted by plowed fields and farmhouses. The other was inspired by center-point irrigation observed from Texan skies.
The pieces are available in a 100-edition release for a limited time.
Elliott is currently working on three letterpress pieces collected in a tryptych frame for the fall 2015 CB2 catalogue. The work is entitled “Hellbox Pie.”

Bug Pix Attract Press

Daniel Kariko (photography) continues to garner international media attention for images in his “Suburban Symbiosis: Insectum Domesticus” series. The baby mantis at left was included in articles featuring his work in both the Daily Mail and Wired in May.
Kariko has more than 50 images in his collection, created by combining multiple stereoscopic and scanning electron microscope images, which provide stunning color and sharp detail, respectively, in Photoshop. Kariko treats each image as portraiture, paying hommage to the 17th century Dutch masters. He’s won multiple awards for individual images.

His boll weevil image won the artist a Wellcome Image Award. It appeared in a variety of online outlets, including IB Times, Wired and Forbes. The boll weevil and 19 other winning images were exhibited at the Wellcome Trust headquarters in London and are currently touring 11 science centers, museums and galleries across the U.K. and U.S.