Family hopes sculpture donation will inspire others

A gift of a $55,000 sculpture is more than a memorial to the donor family’s ancestors, it is a celebration of the city’s past, a look toward its future and adds to the sense of place downtown.

The Pflaum family, who donated the money for the sculpture July 11, hopes it will inspire others to commission more works of public art to enhance a sense of Dayton. The city already boasts more than 10 public sculptures.

Sometime this fall, the free-standing Fluid Dynamics will stand at the intersection of St. Clair Street, Patterson Boulevard and East Fifth Street as part of the Canal Parkway Project.

It honors the George A. Pflaum Publishing Inc. that operated in downtown Dayton from 1885 to 1968 through three generations. Pflaum Publishing produced educational materials for teachers and students for more than 80 years.

World-renowned sculpture Jon Barlow Hudson of Yellow Springs is creating the artworkdf that will be fabricated by Commercial Metal Fabricators of Old North Dayton.

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“Fluid Dynamics embodies in sculptural form my interpretation of flow in nature,” Hudson said in an e-mail from Kazakhstan where he is sculpting another piece. “Fluid Dynamics fits its site, once the bed of the Miami-Erie Canal, a place where the flowing water brought development to the young city and where today aerodynamically designed vehicles drive by, creating vortexes in the air.”

Which was what William Pflaum was looking for. “It is possible to recapture (Dayton’s) spirit of innovation. My guidance to the artists was to create a piece that spoke not only to the past but more importantly looked to the future.”

Printers ink has been in the Pflaum blood for four generations. Pflaum’s great-grandfather was a typesetter for the Dayton Journal, once setting type in the back shop for a story about Confederate sympathizers setting fire to the newspaper building while those sympathizers were in the act of burning the front shop.

His grandfather started a printing business on Jefferson Street that evolved into a publishing company. His father and brother continued the business at various downtown locations until it was sold. The generations all grew up and/or worked downtown.

“It seemed appropriate to undertake this in memory of them,” Pflaum said.

Tess Cortes, gallery coordinator for the Robert and Elaine Stein Gallery at Wright State University, said the Pflaum family commission raises the public awareness of local artists. Pflaum said he got six proposals from local sculptors, four of which he considered outstanding.

“Public art, such as this, enhances the downtown landscape,” said Cortes, who is also an artist. “It gives a sense of place to the community. People become aware of it as part of the urban landscape, which re-enforces that sense of place.”

“I think there will be an effect, and I work on that premise,” said Hudson, the sculptor and Dayton native. His works in metal, stone and other materials are seen in China, Australia, Ireland, Canada, France, Europe, the Middle East, the U.S. and throughout the Miami Valley.

The Double Helix at Wright State’s Diggs BioScience Building, Synchonicity X at Cedarville University, Paradigm Shift at Sinclair Community College, several pieces at the Mason Sculpture Park in Kettering and other pieces at the Springfield United Way and Miller/Valentine are all local examples of his works.

Since the 1970s, many of Hudson’s metal pieces, such as the one for the Worlds Fair in Australia, were fabricated at Commercial Metal Fabricators.

“I’ve been privileged to work with them,” Hudson said.

And the feeling from the factory floor is reciprocated. Amidst the huge presses, rollers, laser cutters and other equipment used to manufacture the parts for everything from up-armoring military vehicles to fracking equipment for shale gas production to huge water tanks and smokestacks, the craftsmen are awaiting Hudson’s project.

“This is where the magic happens,” said Dick Oswald, the company’s sales engineer, standing on the company’s 53,000 square-foot factory floor. Hudson’s jobs are vastly different than anything else the workers face. “This project, there is nothing on paper. There are no blueprints or drawings. A lot is in Jon’s head,” Oswald said

It’s up to the artist and the craftsmen — Oswald calls them high-tech blacksmiths — to put form to the vision. Machines that bend 3/4-inch steel will be asked to form the sweeping curves. “That takes the operator’s knowledge and a lot of black magic. There is a lot of trial and error. And once we have one panel, we have to do it a dozen more more times exactly,” Oswald said.

Hudson will be on the floor, grinding, sanding, polishing and working with the welders to get the perfect effect.

“His stuff is the neatest, and he is a perfectionist,” said Tommy Brest, a 42-year employee of the company, as he set aside his calipers. “You never know what you’ll be doing with Jon. It’s so different.”

All to capture Dayton’s past and look to its future.

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