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.