Client: Student Services Building

Location: Big Rapids, MI, United States

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $70,000

Project Team


Robert L Barnum


Industry Resource

David Murray

Welding Engineering Tech.


JOURNEY is my creative statement about the transitional nature of college life. In essence, you enroll, pursue a degree, change course often more than once, become more or less and emerge at the end of your years as a very different person. Journey is hanging three stories from the floor in a large atrium in a University Student Services Building. A facility for functional needs, administration at the top ETC and is in essence all business. However, this facility stands as the practical place that fuels the far more interesting growth or discovery we call the higher education experience.


JOURNEY consists of over 135 stylized larger that life bird forms swirling towards the future. Not a smooth journey but a trek filled with good and bad emotions, life changes and in many cases the foothold on personal destiny. Journey is three stories above the floor with a three-story curtain wall as its architectural sky. All 135 plus bird forms were hand cut with a hand held plasma out of 6000 series aluminum ¼” thick. JOURNEY tumbles and rolls through this passage always gaining ground regardless of obstacle. If higher education requires that students learn new ideas, concepts and methods then the substantial public art hanging in this university building where most all students will set foot cannot be predictable, obvious or title driven. This public art in this unique academic environment needs to be more that pretty even though properly ground and buffed 6000 series aluminum has an elegant almost jewel like quality. JOURNEY is not a map but a complex fast moving visual that hints at the journey and the optimistic destination.


JOURNEY, was initiated in the university system and had by the end of the project a fair number of university voices involved. That tradition, was embraced and recognized as being part of doing work in the academic setting. Fortunately, the concept level of the JOURNEY sculpture was realized early in the buildings construction and supports were built into the bottom of the trusses to secure the 90’ long sculpture. 6000 series aluminum is relatively light in weight compared to scale but had to be designed for a set number of stainless steel wire support lines to avoid warping the sculpture. The welded connect points between each bird is quite small and was further secured with very small stainless steel pins. Because of the scale and the complex rolling wave design of the overall birds in mass I could not actually put JOURNEY together as a complete 90’ plus long sculpture until I was installing on site over 30’ in the air. JOURNEY can be viewed at a considerable distance through the glass curtain wall.

Additional Information

JOURNEY, in my opinion is important but because the sculpture chose not to be predictable or simple ceiling level decoration as is the established tradition.