Client: Susan P Wheatlake Cancer Center

Location: Reed City, MI, United States

Completion date: 2016

Artwork budget: $80,000

Project Team


Robert L. Barnum


Industry Resource

David Murray

FSU Welding Engineering


TOUCH THE SKY is located at a new Cancer Center in Michigan. The sculpture environment suggests a stylized figure form family group of a male, female and child fabricated out of aluminum. TOUCH THE SKY stands at 20’ tall with an inspired viewer response to look up into the skies. The support base is surrounded by bent corten steel tree elements with cut word content. Those cut words were chosen by the hospital and one donor. TOUCH THE SKY was designed to offer a meditative environment. The main sculpture environment is supported by a smaller sculpture at the hospital entrance.


TOUCH THE SKY is a classic example of my long term professional goals as a university professor and working artist to use public art as a means to visually tell the human story at the highest possible level. In the current and rather predicable presence of public art that stands as no more than decorative by character and by any possible content my agenda suggests the narrative and telling content in multiple forms. A cancer center needs in my opinion a symbol of hope. A sculptural beacon that could possibly inspire a meditative environment during difficult and challenging times. The words cut into the bent tree elements that surround the sculptures support base offers the potential for viewer ownership. How one would interpret or respond to a large sculptural environment multiple level content as my TOUCH THE SKY presents is in the beauty and character of the individual.


TOUCH THE SKY was an interesting build challenge. As reference all my public art is done at all fabrication levels under my hand in my well tooled mural and sculpture studios I built in an industrial park in Michigan and at my FSU studios. I do not use or hire outside fabricators. However, work at this scale and at this weight is a compelling physical. Technical and facility challenge. I work with gifted Welding Engineering students at the university on fabrication needs as I also work with my campus architecture students on sculpture site designs under an academic concept I created titled Aesthetic Engineering. The interesting technical challenge was that the three stylized TOUCH THE SKY figure elements are twisted and by implied movement are not perpendicular by physical balance. In essence, all fabrication for a vertical build had to be handled in a horizontal working position.

Additional Information

During these challenging times I strongly believe public art needs to become important again. Public art has an opportunity. That opportunity in my opinion is to go beyond the merely decorative into something of value in human terms.