Michael Wickerson, chair of sculpture at KCAI, demonstrates how sand cast molds are made ready for pouring hot aluminum at the sculpture department foundry.
Kansas City Art Institute chair of sculpture Michael Wickerson is a bundle of contagious energy. The 38 year old professor and father of two, 4 and 2 year old boys, is passionate about the art and technical aspects of making a work of art. KCAI Students know he is also vigilant about safety. The Workshop at the school’s foundry demonstrated to our group of a dozen visitors from St. Louis this chilly Saturday morning in February what it means to study fine art. “An MFA is not really a master of fine arts as much as it is an indication that the individual is a manager of fine arts. You have to take it upon yourself to understand the tools.” Wilkerson says, “The study of art is changing in profound ways. We want students to fail. It is through trial and error we earn the best opportunities to learn. You begin with a concept and from there you need to explore ways to create your vision.”
Michael had several students on hand to share what it is like to heat and pour aluminum into sand cast molds. Ben from California is passionate about working with wood. A former Marine is passionate about starting a sculpture studio to benefit disabled veterans. Students from Arizona, Florida and Missouri chose KCAI to pursue their dreams for different reasons. All embrace a commitment to become better at their craft. In another part of the studio space, continuing education students are acquiring skill at oxy fuel cutting and welding (MIG and TIG). It is a busy Saturday at the KCAI sculpture department but you immediately sense that this is a place where concepts can become reality. Wikerson is gracious and ambitious. He just might be the perfect fit at this center of excellence located so close to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and the Nelson-Atkins Museum where the Donald Hall Sculpture Park dedicates 22 acres to world-renowned achievements in sculpture.
The visitors from St. Louis returned on the River Runner Amtrak train on Saturday afternoon. On that ride, docents from the St. Louis Laumeier Sculpture Park (LSP) are emphatic in their praise of the visit, notably the experience at KCAI. “We felt like cultural ambassadors returning from a successful mission. We found a wonderful energy at the Kansas City Art Institute that gave us a renewed appreciation for what it means to be an artist,” says Wes Morgan, co chair of the docent crew at the Laumeier Sculpture Park. “We saw an awesome amount of great sculpture and contemporary art while we were in Kansas City but the workshop at KCAI gave us insight into emerging artists.”
a. Andrew Morgan was president of KCAI for about ten years prior to 1970 before he was recruited to the University of Miami to head their art department in the 1970s. He was also an accomplished painter. He died in March of 2011 at 88 years of age. This trio of photos of Andrew around 1977 appeared in UM’s Ibis Yearbook. b. The shot of Andrew Morgan on an elephant with his wife was taken after he announced he would be leaving KCAI. (Andrew Morgan is LSP docent Wes Morgan's uncle.)