Montana State University

To air is divine: Huge wind sculpture installed at Montana State University

April 17, 2002 -- Carol Schmidt


Installed Saturday, a 44 ft. wide sculpture by Gary Bates will soon be a MSU landmark   High-Res Available

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Gallatin Valley artist Gary Bates hopes that his latest large-scale sculpture, a gigantic wind catcher called "Wind Arc," will inspire flights of fancy at its site in front of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Building on the corner of 7th Ave. and Grant avenues on the campus of Montana State University.

Over the weekend Bates installed his sculpture, a 44 ft. softly bent iron arm designed to catch wind atop an 18 ft. stainless steel column, on the grass in front of the EPS building. It is the culmination of nearly three years of planning and building for Bates, a former student at MSU.

"The piece is designed to be seen with the sky behind it," Bates said of the gigantic whirligig. "The reason that it's located exactly where it is, is that when driving north on 7th Ave. it's centered in the sky with the Bridgers behind it. On the other axis, it has sky behind when walking towards the engineering building and the physical plant."

A Montana Arts Council committee seeking proposals for the EPS building's public art project selected Bates design nearly three years ago. State law requires that up to one percent of a building's cost be dedicated to public art. The council selected two artists from the 34 Montana artists who submitted proposals. The interior piece, barbed wire balls hanging from the entryway ceiling, done by Richard Swanson of Helena, was installed in the spring of 2000.

Bates said he has been building wind machines since he was a teenager doing his chores on the family ranch in nearby Amsterdam.

"I used to have to plow a field that was a half mile to a mile," Bates recalled. "Each day was eight rounds and I got bored. So I started building wind machines at the end row that I made out of junk I found on the ranch -- feed bins and old wind generators and towers. I never thought of it as art. It was mainly entertainment."

Bates majored in art when he came to MSU. One of his first large-scale sculptures, done in 1970, was the angular yellow metal piece that still stands near Romney Gym.

"That means for at least awhile, my first and last sculptures are at Montana State University," Bates said.

Bates later graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1975 and since then has done scores of pieces of public and private work. In 1987 he won the ArtQuest North American sculpture contest and in 1984 received a National Endowment of the Arts Award.

Bates said the inspiration for the EPS sculpture came from an unusual twig he found in Yellowstone Park -- on a gigantic scale. Six and a half yards of concrete hold the column in place. The steel swinging tube, 28 ft. high and 44 ft long and curved slightly like a tusk, weighs two tons and took several years to engineer. It was bent at NAPTech Inc. The column is a stainless steel sleeve over a mechanical steel tube.

Bates said the sculpture does not represent a thing.

"It is what it is," Bates said.

And Robert Lashaway, director of MSU's Facilities Services and a trained architect, said that is as it should be.

"The purpose of art is to display and create comment," Lashaway said. "I think this piece will do that."

For more information contact: Bob Lashaway (406) 994-2001, Gary Bates 282-7614