When you first look at the Brian Ferriby sculpture of Lake Michigan, called Michigan, you might see the outline from a map. That is if you’re practiced at thinking of the Great Lakes as positive space instead of the void around a land mass. Michigan joins a Lake Superior sculpture in the Michigan Legacy Art Park. The underwater typography sculpted out of layers of weathered steel is what Brian calls a geometric abstraction. His vision turns what is usually considered space into an object. To look at Ferriby’s sculptures is to discover watery mountains and valleys in an area we most often think of as a flat pane between shorelines.
Michigan is displayed as we are used to seeing it–north, south, east and west as presented on a map. Brian displayed Superior differently, turning it on its edge. The stand for Superior holds the Lake like a museum might display an archeological artifact, suspending it for visibility in-the-round and allowing the weight of the object to define its position.
When Superior found a home at Michigan Legacy Art Park, it inspired Brian to think of the whole park as his canvas, bringing Michigan and eventually all five of the Great Lakes to the Art Park. With that in mind, Superior might get a new stand to orient it geographically with the map. Michigan and Superior will take residence in the Art Park in proximity to each other relative to their global positions.
“I’m interested in what people see when they view these sculptures,” says Ferriby. “I hope Michigan inspires people to think about the Great Lakes as an object, a finite resource and to think about protecting them.” As Ferriby talks about the works, he quotes statistics about the natural lakes, bearing out a foundation of respect and admiration for the global value of the Great Lakes. “The Great Lakes are 25 percent of the world’s non-frozen fresh water and we could easily ruin them.”
When Ferriby was working on the first sculpture, Superior, he spent time considering the politics of water. “Lake Superior is one of the cleanest bodies of fresh water on the planet, and still it’s polluted with taconite pellets from mining.” Ferriby’s choice of weathered steel is consistent with his understanding of the Upper Peninsula’s history of mining and the importance of the Great Lakes to the world’s steel factories. He explains that a majority of the world’s steel being used today originated in the Great Lakes’ ore mines, now recycled into new steel products. The sculptures are a combination of the true shape of nature with the influence of man.
“Each piece I do, tells me what to do next,” says Ferriby. In 2005, he completed Superior as a graduate student project. He was then commissioned to do a Lake Huron sculpture by the Friends of Ottawa Park in Cheboygan.
“I would stand and listen to people talk about Huron,” he admits. “Sometimes I would point out Michigan’s thumb area, and it would come into view for people.” With Huron placed in proximity to the actual Lake, Ferriby pursued installing the Superior sculpture in the Upper Peninsula at Whitefish Bay Park. Ferriby had a vision of five lake sculptures placed all over the Great Lakes, each in proximity to their namesake.
Even with his offer to donate and install the sculpture at Whitefish Bay for free, the leadership there didn’t see a fit, allowing Superior to find its home at Michigan Legacy Art Park. Now with Superior and Michigan finished, he’ll turn his attention to the remaining three, recognizing that it means he’ll have to do Lake Huron again. As an artist, he doesn’t want to do the same thing and he ponders whether he’ll leave that one for last or not. He plans to finish one per year and will work with the Michigan Legacy Art Park board of directors to plan these next three sculptures.
For Ferriby, Michigan Legacy Art Park is a perfect home for the Great Lakes sculptures. “They fit the mission of the Park, uniting the culture, history and nature of Michigan.”