UF gift exchange: Art for donation


Brad Smith, a professor and sculptor at the UF school of art and art history, works on a sculpture for the J. Crayton Pruitt family in recognition of $10 million in donations to the university.

DANNY GHITIS/Special to The Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 17, 2006 at 11:07 p.m.
To many artists, high speed can equate to low quality.
That is until they are faced with a deadline of a week. A week to create something meaningful, something commemorative, something to last a lifetime.
Last week in a metal and wood shop tucked away in one of University of Florida's Fine Arts buildings, a group of men worked intently on a secret project to thank a St. Petersburg surgeon and his family for committing a total of $10 million to UF's department of biomedical engineering.
After Tuesday's public ceremony announcing the financial gift, college leaders in a private luncheon presented to J. Crayton Pruitt Sr. an hour-glass-shaped sculpture made of rare wood, alabaster and, fittingly, biomedical grade metal.
It had been a rushed job. But the product ended in something the group was proud of.
"It's very modernist and the concept that we came up with includes beautiful elements," said Arturo Sinclair, an animator with a background in theater, and one of the four who committed most of last week and the holiday weekend to complete the sculpture.
UF graduate Megan Gales didn't know what she was getting into when she was told last week that Pruitt would be presenting UF's department of biomedical engineering with a multi-million-dollar gift.
"I felt that we needed to honor him, and a plaque just didn't seem fitting," said Gales, also the engineering department's assistant director of communications.
Nothing ordinary would do. Something with biomedical parts maybe.
With only days to organize something, Gales' mind instantly thought of James C. Oliverio, executive director of the Digital Worlds Institute, where engineering and art unite. Although in the middle of a large project at the institute, Oliverio immediately began thinking of ways to create something unique.
"I couldn't say no," Oliverio said. "All I could think about was how we were going to pull this off."
He pulled in Sinclair, the institute's artist in residence.
Sinclair had operated before on tight deadlines, which made him perfect for the seven-day project, Oliverio said.
Then the two teamed up with Digital World's research assistant and UF graduate Anthony Maligno and Brad Smith, a professor and sculptor at the UF School of Art and Art History.
Smith, who usually takes six months to a year creating a single sculpture, works with stone and metal to create different shapes.
"My initial reaction when Arturo asked if I could create something in a week was to think they were all crazy," he said. "But, I wouldn't have accepted if Arturo didn't say he would work with me."
After collecting donations of surgical tools and supplies from professors in the department of biomedical engineering, Sinclair and Smith spent one day creating a design for the sculpture, both artists said.
Smith and Sinclair envisioned an illuminating sculpture shaped similar to an hourglass, said both artists.
Its components: cocobolo, a rare type of wood, as the base; Italian alabaster for its translucence; and a nearly indestructible metal used in knee replacements.
"The metal and the alabaster were the hardest to work with," Smith said. "The metal has a mixture of cobalt and chromium making it so tough, that a file would slide off of it as if it were glass."
Smith took power tools to try to shape the metal, but luckily it welded easily to the other parts.
The alabaster came in a boulder-like shape, about the size of a television set, and was hack-sawed into a parallelogram.
Since Smith only had one block of Italian alabaster, which is the purest piece of stone because it doesn't contain minerals, making it translucent, it was hard to work with because there wasn't room for error, Smith said.
The stone was then chiseled into the rough circular cylinder shape and cut in half. Part of it would go to the bottom of the sculpture, and part of it toward the top. It was placed in a metal lathe, where it was turned like a rotisserie chicken, until it reached the desired oval shape and then placed in a wood lathe to be sanded.
After the stone was polished, it glowed like one of Luke Skywalker's light sabers.
Both Smith and Sinclair worked nearly around the clock over the past few days, with Maligno serving almost as an "apprentice," doing the small jobs for them, Sinclair said.
But over and above the sculpture, members of the group said they valued the collaboration.
"It increased the appreciation for what each other does," Oliverio said. "We are teaming with the Pruitt School of Biomedical Engineering to illustrate a partnership."
It is what the institute started to do from the beginning, he said.
"We created an original sculpture, and now we can say we really did do something together," he said.

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