If you’ve walked past the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art over the past two weeks, you’ve probably seen one large tent, students singing along to the stereo, and a mass of wire and brass being transformed into a work of art. 

While the metal and cement sculpture appearing outside of the Wellin is not what usually blooms during the Clinton summer, this is a typical undertaking by Elias Sime, the artist featured in the Wellin’s upcoming exhibition “Elias Sime: Tightrope.”

Sime’s piece titled Flowers & Roots, located on the Wellin’s Selch Terrace, depicts exposed roots, a pathway, an arch, and supersized peony petals. The sculpture is made out of bronze, cement,   and repurposed technological elements like computer motherboards and electrical wire. Sime’s work is furthermore intended to complement the exhibition opening on September 7 at the Wellin, which spotlights his tableaus that have a similar mechanical composition.                                                       

Flowers & Roots

Finished dimensions: 112" H x 204" W x 138" D

Medium: Wood, bronze, steel, cement, repurposed paper, wire, and circuit board 

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Sime and his collaborator Meskerem Assegued, are based in Ethiopia, Sime’s home country. Described by Johnson-Pote Director of the Wellin Museum Tracy Adler as a “world-class artist,” Sime brings not just an Ethiopian, but a global vision to Hamilton College. His work, which comprises themes of sustainability and technology working in step with nature, calls into question the pervasive, ever-changing role of technology. Sime’s presence at the Wellin will likewise help instill a sense of worldly and timely awareness within the Hamilton community.

Though Sime’s pieces are globally relevant, his developing sculpture is designed with Hamilton in mind. Having visited the college last June, Sime and Assegued became inspired by A.P. Saunders’ peonies in the Root Glen, and they wanted to incorporate the flowers into the project. Adler noted that the peonies, themselves results of hybridization, reflect the subject of nature as similar to the manmade in its engineering, a theme that Sime addresses in his artwork. Working with the Wellin staff, Sime and Assegued spent about a year sketching out the sculpture and determining how to construct it.

Adler said that in addition to the honor that comes with hosting “an artist of [Sime’s] caliber,” she is excited to showcase artwork that “lends itself to a teaching museum.” Through bringing in philosophical themes of nature and technology, she hopes that visitors will engage with the museum in unexpected ways.

The sculpture, which is being constructed with the help of seven Hamilton students, also brings in an educational component through involving aspiring art professionals.  Students assisting in the construction of the sculpture include Safa Ahmed ’21, Alexander Fergusson ’20, Olivia Fuller ’19, Elias Griffin ’20, Anika Huq ‘’19, Lila Reid ’20, and Henry Andrew Watson ’19.

“I’m always kind of surprised by how much I enjoy being in the space working on projects for them,” Alex Fergusson said. After spending the past two weeks gluing computer chips and making roots out of wire mesh under the instruction of Sime and Assegued, Fergusson felt like he had a better grasp on and enjoyment of creating art.

Olivia Fuller ’19 has been especially involved with the project, having spent additional time assessing the digital model of the sculpture and helping design the patterns that would eventually comprise the sculpture. “It’s the time of my life,” she said.

The Wellin’s Building Manager and Museum Preparator Chris Harrison, who is managing the project, said that there has been “a lot of respect and support” between the students and Sime and Assegued. He and Adler cited the opportunity for undergraduate students to work with such an esteemed artist as an incredibly fulfilling aspect of the project. In September, Sime and Assegued will continue their involvement with Hamilton students when they return to lead discussions about their work, and engage with classes for a week of programming at the Wellin.

The exhibition “Elias Sime: Tightrope,” curated by Adler, will be on view through Dec. 8 at the Wellin Museum.

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