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Tad Gallaugher

Tad Gallaugher, who retired from Ohio University’s Printing Services in May 2014, designed the images seen in the brick relief sculpture recently installed on the site of Phase I of OHIO’s Housing Development Plan.

Photo courtesy of: University Communications and Marketing

Brad and Tammy Spencer

Brad and Tammy Spencer created the sculpture based on Gallaugher’s designs in their studio in Reidsville, N.C.

Photo courtesy of: Brad and Tammy Spencer

Brick layers

(From left) Mike Richter, Brock Matteson, Ed Holbrook, Adam Carmon, Gary Vermillion and Kevin Six, all from Kirk Bros. Co., installed the brick relief sculpture.

Photo courtesy of: Joanna Stoltzfus/Division of Student Affairs

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Brick sculpture installed at new residential housing site (SLIDESHOW)


As contractors spent spring semester putting finishing touches on the four new residence halls and living/learning center being constructed on Ohio University’s Athens Campus, more than 300 miles away artists were crafting a special feature that will serve as a highlight of this renewed campus area.

This past January, Brad and Tammy Spencer, sculptors based in Reidsville, N.C., began chiseling and carving away at a brick relief sculpture that last month was installed on the site of Phase I of OHIO’s Housing Development Plan. Three-dimensional in nature, the sculpture includes iconic images and symbols of the University and will serve as both a gateway and tribute to the campus’ South Green.

Christine Sheets, assistant vice president for student affairs, came up with the idea for the sculpture, seeing an opportunity to conceal what would otherwise be an eyesore on the site while also adding an artistic element to the largest residential housing project to occur on the campus in more than 40 years.

The southeast corner of the site across from Adams Hall houses a large generator that will serve the newly constructed buildings. A necessary life-safety feature of the site, the generator posed an aesthetic challenge.

Sheets received approval to pursue the commissioning of a relief sculpture that would be etched into two of the four brick walls that surround the generator, prompting her to contact a local artist whose illustrations have promoted the iconic beauty of the Athens Campus for decades.

A retired designer and illustrator for Ohio University’s Printing Services, Tad Gallaugher spent more than 20 years creating brochures, posters, fliers and promotional materials for the University and its numerous departments. An award-winning artist, Gallaugher focused his talents while at the University on capturing the iconic images the campus is known for – images that now grace everything from notecards and prints to holiday ornaments.

“Tad knows this University and the history of this University,” Sheets explained. “He really knows all those iconic images of the campus, the best angles, the best lighting. I knew he could capture the essence of what we wanted this sculpture to be all about – memorializing the campus’ Back South.” Three residence halls on Back South – Cady, Foster and Brough Houses – are scheduled to be razed next summer as part of the Housing Development Plan.

According to Sheets, Gallaugher jumped at the opportunity.

“It was an honor to be asked to be involved in this,” Gallaugher, who retired from the University one year ago last month, said. “As an employee of the University, you’re an integral part of the campus and the process of educating students. It’s a very special privilege, and even after you retire or leave the University, you look back and you want to continue to be a part of that and be remembered. Having my artwork become a permanent fixture on the campus will always keep me connected to Ohio University.”

Gallaugher was tasked with designing two images – one for the southern side of the generator facing South Green Drive, the other for the eastern side of the generator facing Adams Hall. It was a lofty task, Gallaugher admitted – creating art that is pleasing to the entire Bobcat Family and conveying slices of the University’s history and its heritage.

For the south-facing wall, Gallaugher created an image that marries the new South Green residential experience with the old, juxtaposing the upper portion of Adams Halls with the cupola that sits atop Wray House with the University’s official seal at the heart of the image. The image Gallaugher created for the east-facing wall of the sculpture depicts the view of the Athens Campus from the Hocking River to the southeast, including the iconic view of the Back South, with the word “OHIO” stretched out across it.

“I think alumni will get more out of the final product than anyone else,” Gallaugher said, “because it serves as a remembrance of what was. At the same time, I also think it launches into the possibility of what’s to come at this University.”

The illustrations were sent to sculptor Brad Spencer who used the images to bring Gallaugher’s designs to life.

An artist with more than 30 years of experience, Brad began experimenting with brick relief sculpture in 1989. Twenty-six years later, brick remains his primary medium, and his creations can be seen in public areas in communities throughout North Carolina and beyond.

Relief sculptures require the use of unfired bricks, allowing the sculptor to carve images into the bricks before they are hardened in the firing process. According to Brad, the 1,750 bricks included in the sculpture for the Athens Campus contained no core holes and were both thicker and taller than traditional bricks, giving him more material to allow deeper carving and requiring less mortar joints during installation.

The pre-fired bricks are stacked on an easel in Brad’s studio with clay spacers that represent the future mortar joints, creating a canvas on which Brad and Tammy put their talents to work. Brad spearheads all of the major sculpting on the project while Tammy adds detailing to the images.

The pair has created dozens of brick relief sculptures over the years, but the one commissioned for OHIO was particularly unique and challenging.

“This is the largest brick relief sculpture we have ever done,” Tammy explained.

The south-facing image of the sculpture stands at nearly 17 feet wide by almost 9 feet tall while the east-facing image is nearly 29 feet wide by 9 feet tall.

Tammy noted that the east-facing image was so large that they had to set it up on three separate easels, making it challenging for them to get a comprehensive look at the piece as it was being developed.

Another challenge in creating this piece was the sheer detail involved. Brad noted that he relied on photographs of the campus and of specific details like what the campus’ lamp posts look like to sculpt an authentic view of OHIO.

“We also had to come up with a lot of different textures in this piece,” Brad said. “When you’re working with a monochromatic medium, texture is so important.”

It’s in creating textures that Brad and Tammy are able to really tap into their creativity. They supplement traditional sculpting tools with tools Brad makes, old dental tools, forks, knives, you name it. One texture featured in the sculpture for the Athens Campus was made using a fish scaler, and Brad noted that the detail contained in the roofs of buildings seen in the sculpture was created using a meat tenderizer.

“There are so many little features and details contained throughout this piece,” Tammy said, noting the difference in the numerous trees in the sculpture, the Bobcat weathervane perched atop Wray House, and the time shown on the clock that also sits atop that building – a detail sure to be appreciated by anyone who works a 9-to-5 job.

After the images have been carved into the bricks, each brick is numbered and sent to the brick plant for firing. After they have been fired, the finished bricks are sorted and packed in a specific order to be shipped to the job site. According to Brad, firing, sorting and packing the bricks is a 10-day process.

Brad and Tammy traveled to the Athens Campus in mid-May to supervise and assist with the installation of the sculpture. It took about a week for bricklayers with the masonry division of Ohio-based Kirk Bros. Co. to install it.

The bricklayers involved in installing the sculpture have been working on the Phase I site since the first of the more than one million bricks on the exterior of the site’s five buildings began being laid approximately a year ago. Two of those bricklayers, Kevin Six and Mike Richter, have been laying bricks for more than 25 years, but this project marked the first time either of them had installed a brick relief sculpture.

“It’s quite impressive,” Six said of the sculpture. “I’ve enjoyed being a part of this and witnessing the whole thing come together.”

“This has been much more rewarding than the typical brick laying we do,” Richter added.

What’s been rewarding for Sheets is seeing the project come full circle and the collaboration that has occurred.

“I’m amazed,” she said. “I’m simply astounded by the ability of the artist, the sculptors and the masons to bring this all together. My hope is that this sculpture becomes another iconic space on this campus – a place where people gather to take photos that capture special moments in their lives and a place where those who have special memories of Ohio University and its Back South come to reminisce.”