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Headed For Kansas City's Open Spaces: The Fruit Of One Sculptor's Struggle With Gravity

Julie Denesha
At his open-air studio in Ottawa, Kansas, Jacob Burmood works on his sculpture, ‘Draped Form,’ for Open Spaces.";s:

Sculptor Jacob Burmood stood on a high ladder beneath a large elm tree. The sound of his buffing tool mingled with the late-afternoon chorus of cicadas at his rural, open-air studio in Ottawa, Kansas.

“This tree is really my studio,” Burmood said. “It’s really peaceful and I love the cicadas. That’s my music.”

Burmood was burnishing the aluminum skin of “Draped Form,” a 12-foot sculpture to be installed at Swope Park for Open Spaces, the metro-area art extravaganza that kicks off this weekend.

When Burmood first heard about the call for art work, he thought his silvery, cascading form would fit right in. It’s something he’d been working on for the past three years.

“I am excited for people to discover this and just come across it as they enter the park,” he said. “Swope Park is such a wild forest, with so many curving roads, I felt like just aesthetically this piece would fit into that environment.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Weighing half a ton, Burmood's sculpture dominates his open-air studio.

To create folds in the large-scale sculpture before covering it in cold cast aluminum, Burmood suspended resin-soaked cloth. Tension from the earthly tug of gravity, he said, is a challenge he battles constantly.

“I wish that I could work in outer space in zero gravity and just kind of tug on the cloth and let it do more of its own thing. But gravity really has such an impact on it that I have no choice but to collaborate with that force.”

The process is a series of trial and error. Once the cloth hardens, it can take several attempts before he finds a composition that satisfies him.

“For every sculpture that I think is successful, there’s a pile of rigidizied cloth that I can’t do anything with,” he said.

The ten-acre farm next to a gravel road where he works might seem like a stark contrast to the urban park where Burmood’s sculpture will greet visitors during Open Spaces, but he said he has a special connection to the Swope Park neighborhood. He lived in a house near the park for a year after moving to the metro area in 2013, right after earning a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of Kansas.

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Hanging from another branch of Burmood's tree is a figural sculpture in progress, a work commissioned by the National Soccer Hall of Fame in Frisco, Texas.

Burmood said he found inspiration while exploring the area.

“You’d see a lots of things that people had just left. I’d see a pile of orange PVC pipe or, you know, the contents of an entire house dumped. It was unfortunate but, as a sculptor, it was also interesting.”

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.


Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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