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Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is the city’s designated local arts and culture agency.



Houston Arts Alliance

Can you tell the difference between a brawny construction project and a hefty art installation?

Sometimes that’s not so easy.

Just ask sculptor Ed Wilson, whose large-scale mobile will add a special je ne sais quoi to the George R. Brown Convention Center. Commissioned by Houston Arts Alliance, on behalf of the Houston First Corporation, Wilson’s massive undertaking demands creativity and ingenuity not only for its concept, but also for its execution.

A small prototype propped on one end of Wilson’s uncluttered workshop reminds him of the desired effect. Tools are scattered on the worktable, above which engineering diagrams and schematics offer ideas on how to handle the mighty load courtesy of numerous pieces of stainless steel. Wilson has an intuitive understanding of physics. He has an idea of what might work, but that’s not good enough.

In this smaller scale, Wilson’s spiral of suspended clouds and birds crafted from perforated sheets of steel appears to be off the cuff, effortless and weightless — as though hanging such a piece were as easy as fastening a chain to a hook and . . . voila! Even less complicated than installing a ceiling fan.

But, akin to the aesthetics of Wilson’s imagination, that’s pure fantasy.

“The way this has worked so far is with good collaborators to help me with many aspects,” Wilson says. “I’m working with lighting designer Christina Giannelli, Houston Arts Alliance Civic Art + Design Project Manager Mat Kubo, engineers, architects, project managers — there’s a whole team of people who are joining forces to make my idea work.”

“This project is obviously more than one person can handle,” he adds. “I expect — I need — all my teammates to be creative, offer their opinions and even insist when they think I’m wrong.”

As all these moving pieces find grounding, plenty of funds are used on preparations. To manage the process, Wilson, with the help of an accountant, has set up a separate project bank account and ledger. He monitors all of his expenses digitally to track any variances from his original estimates. As the budget is refined — the suspension system will cost slightly less, the lighting concept will cost slightly more — Wilson is able to better allocate resources for fabrication and assembly.

“One of the things that became apparent while working on my numbers was that it was more economical to build an addition to my workshop rather than rent studio space,” Wilson explains. “This will surely come in handy in future projects.”

When Wilson moves from planning to production, he will manage a crew of smiths under his new addition — a large overhang stretching over unpaved ground. In the end, Wilson’s hope for the sculpture is to be as beautiful as it can possibly be.

“So I guess my role is to make sure that happens,” he adds.