Jon Barlow Hudson On Creating Public Art

Jul 6, 2017

Today on Culture Couch we meet local sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson, who’s finishing a piece of public art for the downtown Dayton Public Library  building.

Creating a public sculpture puts an artist in the middle of a conversation  - the work is accessible, people can walk around it and touch it.  Hudson’s new work includes two seats – it’s actually a place to sit and talk.  Community Voices producer Lauren Shows visited the artist’s studio to learn more about his work:

Jon Barlow Hudson is standing in the sun at his workshop in Yellow Springs. He’s in front of a granite monolith, sorting through a collection of blades and discs in a wheelbarrow.

Credit Lauren Shows / WYSO

These are the tools of his trade: rather than the traditional hammer and chisel, Jon brings a little more power into his process.

"All of this has been done with a 14 inch chop saw," he says.  "And I’ve suspended it on my engine hoist, so I don’t have to do all the work of holding it. So you can remove a lot of material very quickly."

Folks in the Dayton area have almost certainly seen Jon’s sculptures, whether they know it or not: the bronze Tree of Knowledge by the Yellow Springs library, the tall, reflective double helix at Sinclair Community College, or the long, undulating yellow steel sculpture in downtown Dayton, to name a very few. He began his career working in stainless steel, but as he guides me around his workspace, he reveals his true love.

"Each stone, like you can see in the slab here, it’s totally unique. Texture and shape and character and color pattern, unique like a person — whereas stainless steel, one sheet looks like the other."

Jon shows me what he’s working on now: a piece in honor of public servants, which will be installed at the newly-remodeled Dayton Metro Library.  The granite sculpture will bear quotes about public service, and will be composed of two seats on opposing sides of a wall

"This seat is going to be curved and sort of like the inside of an egg, so you can sit inside and feel unfolded. The other side is more geometric. The two seats interconnect, which creates an open space between the seats, so that the two people facing different directions can still communicate — even hold hands, pass messages. It’s about communication and breaking through walls.

When it's complete, this piece will be installed in the new main branch of the Dayton Metro Library
Credit Lauren Shows / WYSO

We go inside Jon’s gallery space. He introduces me to more of his work, talking about each piece with affection.

"It rotates around its center, it’s kinda infinite," he says of one sculpture.  "It just keeps turning and turning and spinning. In a way, this could symbolize a person — a person’s life turns around their center. It’s always rotating, every day."

Jon says that the spiritual elements of art motivate his work, "That’s kind of, to me, the main inspiration. Although an art gallery dealer always said, 'Don’t talk about that when you’re trying to sell your work.' But to me, that’s the only thing that’s really worthwhile."

He shows me a few photos of pieces in Cincinnati that were destroyed by their owners when the buildings housing them were renovated, "My wife and her friend went to see the one, and it was gone. It’s mind-blowing how someone can destroy something like that."

Jon’s sculptures dot the landscape of the Miami Valley, but his sculpture spans the globe, with work on display in nearly two dozen countries. He’s like his sculptures in that way: well-traveled, and from an early age.

"As a kid I grew up, we traveled around," says Jon. "My dad was a geologist, and went to all these places like Machu Picchu and Jerash and so on. Climbing around on them, they were just mystical and I guess I became inspired to make things like that, that would last a long time, to speak down through time to people in the future, like they were speaking to me. One hopes — I hope — my work will last a long time, that’s why I like working with granite. My wife’s in theater, and she’s happy to do things that are transient like that. For me, if I’m going to do all this hard work, I want it to last a long time."

Jon Barlow Hudson's new piece is on track to be finished by the end of the summer, when the new Dayton Metro Library will open. 

Culture Couch is made possible by a generous grant from the Ohio Arts Council.