Sculpture: The Finishing Touch for Cornell’s Organ

“One of the things that’s always left out with new organs is the sculpture,” says Todd McGrain, Cornell associate professor of art. But McGrain has been considering sculpture designs for Cornell’s baroque organ since early in the project, with the encouragement of organ designer Munetaka Yokota. One of McGrain’s ideas, to use cherubs as a unifying element, was presented at the 2006 Conference on the organ held at Cornell.

Now that the organ is finished, McGrain says that “the somewhat understated, limited relief pipe shades has got me thinking that a more modern interpretation of sculptural elements for the organ might be more appropriate.”

McGrain envisions elements “that point toward the broad palette of both academic and artistic endeavors that are part of what make Cornell such a wonderful place.” He cites the mosaic in Anabel Taylor Chapel as an excellent example of this type of synthesis. “That’s what would drive my thoughts around the decoration for the organ,” he explains. “Reflecting on Cornell as a place with such a beautiful breadth of expertise and interest, and asking what sculpture is appropriate for an institution that’s about nurturing the questioning mind.”

Declining to go into specific designs for sculptures, McGrain says “we live in a world where people like to know where they’re going and set a plan and then they judge the success or failure by whether or not they got what they wanted. But the job of a sculptor is to be inspired by an initiative, start down the road of development, stay sensitive and inquisitive, and answer the questions through the process of creation so that the thing that’s made is a result of a truly evolutionary development and transformation of materials suitable for the site.”

As to what material would be suitable for Cornell’s organ sculptures, McGrain says that northern Europeans were masters of direct plaster over wooden armatures. It’s a traditional technique that McGrain uses extensively in his own art, although his current work, “The Lost Bird Project,” is made of bronze, and he also works with carved wood and cast plaster, techniques also employed by baroque sculptors.

Any work on the sculptures for Cornell’s baroque organ, however, will have to wait for funding to be found. If you would like to support this project, please see Giving to the Organ.