New Heights: Emerging Metal Artist Aspires To Create Large, Public Sculptures

Metal sculptor Maranda Pedersen talks softly, but she carries a big torch.

Clad in her navy overalls, gloves and safety goggles, the 23-year-old Fargo native uses an oxy-acetylene kit — what she describes as a “blow torch on steroids” — to heat metal to 3,000 degrees and bend it into intricate geometric sculptures.

“I love working with metal because it’s so forgivable,” Pedersen said. “You can keep manipulating it by adding or subtracting to it. I like that it’s in a constant state of change.”

The phrase “constant state of change” is coincidentally applicable to the young artist’s path thus far.

In fall 2016, she received grant from The Arts Partnership to buy an oxy-acetylene kit to create thick rods for large metal sculptures. Acetylene, she explained, is similar to propane. As oxygen is added, a searing blue flame emerges from the torch that softens steel in seconds.

Maranda Pedersen uses the oxy-acetylene torch to melt steel in seconds and form sculptures.

Pedersen always knew she wanted an arts-related occupation. She grew up in a household that instilled a passion for creativity.

As an art major at Minnesota State University Moorhead, she tried any creative medium she could get her hands on, whether it was ceramics, screen-printing or drawing. She originally began her higher education as an art education major, but as her artistic talent emerged, her professors encouraged her to pursue the studio arts.

When she was exposed to welding for a sculpting class, however, she hesitated. With the combination of sparks flying from the grinders, the insanely hot metal torches, the loud noises and the fumes, metal working is typically not for the faint of heart.

“Metal is a hard material to get into,” Pedersen said. “There’s a lot of knowledge you need before you can start welding, but I liked that not a lot of people use it for art.”

Examples of smaller sculptures Pedersen created for a show at MSUM. Photo courtesy of Maranda Pedersen.

Since then, metal has been her medium of choice. During the last three years, Pedersen has focused on creating smaller household utilitarian pieces, like bookshelves, in her studio. In the last year, however, she decided it was time to expand her skills so she applied for the Individual Arts Partnership grant.

Large inclusive works have been an interest for Pedersen since she and her MSUM colleagues, Olivia Bain, Jill Gandrud, Lucas Schult and Jess Suppa, under the direction of professor Chris Walla, built the colorful hummingbird sculpture that has watched over the Plains Art Museum entrance since 2015.

Pedersen created the hummingbird model students picked from many sculpture ideas. The sculpture is part of the museum’s S.P.A.C.E exhibition, which stands for “Sculpture Pad Art Collaborative Experiment.” The museum installs works created by sculpture students from Concordia, North Dakota State University and MSUM every two years.

A new sculpture by Concordia students will be installed in late April and the hummingbird sculpture will return to MSUM.

“Getting the chance to assist with bending the metal, weaving the rope and installing the hummingbird sculpture gave me experience working on large public art,” Pedersen said.

Public art and large museum installations are her main career aspirations, but before she had an

oxy-acetylene kit, her artwork was restricted to short and low-weight works that cannot withstand North Dakota’s harsh weather conditions.

Now that Pedersen has a better torch, the possibilities are endless — and she wants to create pieces that tower over their viewers (including Pedersen, who stands at 5 feet 3 inches). She hopes to find a more spacious studio in the near future to begin working on large 3D sculptures.

For now, she’s experimenting with her new tool.

“I try to produce work that people can view and interact with, and public art lends itself to that very well,” she said. “You don’t need to necessarily go to a museum to see the art because it’s in the community. I want the audience to critically think about themselves in relation to the works they are viewing.”

This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, April 10, 2017.

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