FARMINGTON — As students begin trickling onto the University of Maine at Farmington’s campus this weekend, they’ll be confronted with an “F Bomb.” They also may notice a “C Saw” and “P Pod,” not to mention “Wandering I’s.” Those responsible hope they’ll appreciate the “Iron E.”

Those and dozens of other alphabet-inspired sculptures are part of the “Sculpture Soup” series by sculptor and metal artist Jay Sawyer, of Warren, being installed this week as part of the Emery Community Arts Center’s push to bring art to students that makes them think and exposes them to variety.

“It’s fun, and it’s really smart fun,” said Stan Spilecki, technical director of the Emery Community Arts Center, of Sawyer’s work. “There’s the witticism of the use of the words. It’s so literary.

“We always try to open the year with something that has some splash, something that will get the students thinking and make them aware that art can be a lot of different things,” Spilecki said.

Sawyer’s series is the opening exhibit of the academic year for the Emery Community Arts Center UMF, where classes begin Monday.

The series is made up of more than 40 pieces ranging from tabletop size to 8 feet tall, each consisting of a letter of the alphabet that Sawyer has applied his wit and welding work to.


“It’s really quite an honor to come to Farmington because I think this series has a lot of education opportunity with it,” Sawyer said. “You’ve got the phonics and all the idiosyncrasies of the language. … I really think it provokes that thought and maybe gives kids a fun way to get a grasp of all those weird quirky things about the English language.”

While the smaller pieces like “C Saw,” a bright yellow “c” curved out of a saw blade, or “P Pod,” a delicate “p” made from perforated sheet stock with steel peas forged inside the pod, are being shown inside the arts center, there are two large sculptures on display outside.

On Thursday, with the assistance of a boom truck, Sawyer placed “Wandering I’s,” two leaning letter “I’s” forged from steel I-beams, and his 8-foot-tall piece “F Bomb,” a bright red “f” on top of a 3-foot-diameter ball — an old-style bomb — on the grounds of the arts center.

Sawyer, who began working as a metal artist and sculptor 10 years ago, was a part of a collaborative show at UMF several years ago. Then in 2014, Sawyer installed his 15-foot-tall metal sculpture, “A Spirit of Its Own,” on public display at the Portland International Jetport, and the Emery Community Arts Center knew it needed to get him back to campus.

Throughout the academic year the center, which opened on UMF’s campus five years ago, features a variety of displays in both the visual and performing arts. Spilecki said the center, which during the year also showcases student art, makes a point of showing the work of Maine artists such as Sawyer and welcomes the artistic edge their work brings to campus.

He said Sawyer “is someone who is up and coming in the Maine art world” and center officials asked him if he’d be interested in doing a show of just his work.


At the time, Sawyer had started working on the “Sculpture Soup” series, which has taken him nearly three years to complete, and Spilecki said they thought the series would be a good fit for UMF, so they patiently waited from him to finish. Sawyer’s exhibit at UMF is the first place his new series will be shown.

Sawyer, whose work is made entirely of reused and repurposed material, said “Sculpture Soup” began with the letter “e” and a childhood memory. A native of Knox County, Sawyer said he grew up wandering around the George’s River Woolen Mill. When he got the opportunity to work with materials after the mill was demolished a few years ago, Sawyer fixated on a large piece of iron from the mill’s penstock, used to strain the water from the St. George’s River, which powered the mill.

He wondered what he could craft out of the iron. One day the theme of irony came to mind. So he made a small lowercase “e” out of the rusted iron.

When people saw “Iron E,” they told Sawyer he should do the whole alphabet. At first he resisted, but then he made sculptures of all the vowels. Three years later, using a plethora of salvaged materials and puns, Sawyer has more than 40 letter sculptures — with some letters forged and interpreted a number of different ways.

“There is some concern for whimsy and how far you can go with the whimsy. So one or two letters, I think would be whimsy. But I think when you push it, and you push it so far that you’ve got the entire alphabet, it’s not whimsy anymore. It’s a serious venture,” Sawyer said.

Sawyer’s background is not in the fine arts, or the arts in general. A graduate of Maine Maritime Academy, he worked several years as a marine engineer, and he began a welding and mobile repair business. With a wide variety of fabrication work coming into his shop, Sawyer was exposed to a range of industrial materials and was able to fine-tune his welding and forging skills.


Sawyer can’t pinpoint why he decided to transition into the artistic side of metal work and sculpture, only that he had the skills and the passion and he had come to a point in his life at which he had started to change in a variety of ways.

“I had the passion and the desire, and then it was a matter of trying to get the confidence and so somewhere in my 40s, that started happening,” Sawyer said.

Now in his 50s, Sawyer said he has grown into his style of art, though “Sculpture Soup” features pieces made from materials he typically doesn’t work with. Having a preference for thicker, industrial metals, Sawyer stepped out of his comfort zone by using thin sheet metals and other objects to create some of his letters.

A piece titled “Bumble B” is made of sheet metal from a truck door and an old farm tractor. For another piece, called “Screw U,” Sawyer welded together 75 to 100 screws to form the letter “u.” The fact that these sculptures were made from such seemingly everyday materials is why he is excited to show the series to students and demonstrate how accessible art can be.

“That was part of what I wanted to do here, was use all that different material to show the viewer — say a kid in art class — showing them that it’s just a chunk of an old pickup truck door and a garden tractor, or that it’s just a bunch of screws,” he said.

Sawyer’s work will be on display at the Emery Community Center for the Arts through Nov. 3, with an opening reception for the series from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 9.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

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