New sculpture at WSU-Everett is a math-focused masterpiece

Artist Paul Vexler’s “Conic Sections” showcases the circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola shapes.

Artist Paul Vexler, from Machias, stands the staircase at Washington State University-Everett with his creation behind him. The hanging woodwork art is 35 feet tall and hangs in the main lobby at the school. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Artist Paul Vexler, from Machias, stands the staircase at Washington State University-Everett with his creation behind him. The hanging woodwork art is 35 feet tall and hangs in the main lobby at the school. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

It’s 1,500 pounds of math, science and art genius.

Dangling right over your head.

The new art installation by sculptor Paul Vexler lords over the foyer of the Washington State University-Everett campus.

“The steel grid weighs 750 pounds and the wood objects weigh another 750 pounds,” Vexler said. “It’s about 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide.”

Not to worry about this massive masterpiece — or any of its circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola pieces — falling from above. The 18 perfectly placed cables have your back.

“It is staying put,” Vexler said. “In the business, we call it ‘site specific.’ ”

His sculpture, “Conic Sections,” was installed during winter break in the modern four-story building at 915 N. Broadway, which opened this school year across from Everett Community College.

“Conic Sections” has multiple viewing areas from classrooms, offices, lunchroom and the stairs. It looks different from each angle.

The reaction from the students?

“It was pretty unanimously ‘Wow,’ ” WSU-Everett spokesman Randy Bolerjack said.

The sculpture was commissioned through the Washington State Arts Commission that gets half of 1 percent of the state’s portion of construction costs for artwork in state-funded building projects. The WSU-Everett building cost roughly $64.6 million, with $10 million for design of the 95,000-square-foot structure.

Vexler was chosen by a committee that included design-build experts. Its five members reviewed the work of about 160 eligible artists on the arts commission roster.

“We went though a number of rounds,” Bolerjack said. “Paul’s work stood out.”

The sculpture had to complement the grand wooden staircase that is an artwork in itself in the glassy foyer.

“Obviously, Paul nailed that,” Bolerjack said.

Vexler’s guideline was to create something STEM related to go with the school’s engineering- and math-focused programs.

That was easy for Vexler, who studied physics in college before turning to sculpture.

The plaque reads: “Conic Sections celebrates the beauty of the curves that are created when a cone is intersected by a plane. The circle, ellipse, parabola and hyperbola are wonderful shapes that have been admired for thousands of years. They are also essential in understanding the motion of objects on Earth and in our solar system.”

Vexler spent a year and a half working on the sculpture in his Machias studio, which has a 30-foot ceiling. “The actual fabrication took about six months,” he said.

He had some help from mortals and machines. “A lot of design work was done on computer,” he said. “I had a team of people working on the graphic side, installation side and fabrication part of it.”

It took two weeks for him to assemble the final product in his shop to hang just the way he wanted. Then he took it apart for transport to Everett, where it took a few days to put together.

“It was a matter of choosing the right lift,” he said, “and getting the right lift operator.”

Vexler, who is represented by the Foster/White Gallery in Seattle, was the Schack Art Center’s 2011 Artist of the Year for his accomplishments and contributions to the visual arts world. His sculptures are in schools, libraries and businesses in Washington and nationwide.

“Conic Sections” is not his largest work.

“I did one at SeaTac Airport that’s bigger, in some ways,” he said. “This is the most ambitious project I’ve ever done.”

Bolerjack predicts it will be a WSU-Everett icon.

“We’ve had students who want to do 3D printed versions of this,” he said. “I think it is going to enhance the culture of the campus.”

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

More Vexler artwork

Public installations in Washington by Paul Vexler include:

“Up Against the Wall,” People’s Bank, Everett

“The Five Platonic Solids — Suspended,” Robert J. Drewel Building, Everett

“Loops, Knots & Spirals,” Everett Community College

“Circuity,” Green River Community College, Auburn

“Three Biomorphites,” King County Library System, Auburn

“Big Yellow Knot,” Washington State University, Pullman

“Archimedean Necklace,” Pacific Science Center, Seattle

“Flying Knot,” Seattle University, Seattle

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