When Phil Bucksbaum announced (to Michigan’s profound regret) that he had accepted an offer from Stanford, his associates at Michigan commissioned a sculpture as a going-away gift. Phil and Roberta Morris had liked a piece that I had done for the University of Mexico (UNAM, in Mexico City) that depicted the vector coupling (L+S forming J, then I+J forming F) of electronic and nuclear angular momenta, so we made a half scale version of that sculpture for presentation to Phil and Roberta on the occasion of their departure.
After Phil had established his research effort at SLAC and results had been forthcoming, the Stanford group asked me to propose a sculpture to celebrate their achievement in generating ultrafast pulses —— and their method of using a laser to open, momentarily, the potential wall that confines electrons to their atoms, seemed to suggest the image of children in a one-room schoolhouse as they rush out on the last day of classes to begin their summer vacation. Another metaphor was that of a flower as it opened to liberate its seeds. I made some sketches and small-scale maquettes. The version based on the opening flower was set aside because fabricating the compound curves in thick sheet metal was going to be difficult.
We chose a straight-sided cone. I first proposed a version that would be 9 feet tall and, overall, about 18 feet long —- bigger is, ipso facto, better in the world of sculpture (vide Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero) but the expense for this was well beyond the available budget. So we went with a smaller version. Roberta Morris gave final approval to this full-size maquette:
The sculpture was built in the sheet metal shop of the University of Michigan with the help of Josh Blackmon, a technician with whom I’ve worked for many years. Rolling the big cone in bronze was a unfamiliar challenge for which we prepared by rolling a same-size piece of sheet steel. The other parts of the work were straightforward.
The sculpture was was crated for shipment in furniture-grade birch veneer plywood because our carpenter shop had a large supply of this in odd sizes at hand– it would have been more expensive to procure industrial grade wood for the task.
(I did mention this explicitly to the Stanford people with the suggestion that the crate itself could later be used for rather nice bookshelves. I had seen an analogous situation when I was in the Navy back in 1950, a time when people on overseas assignment in Asia were shipping home very ordinary household goods in crates locally made of Teak wood that was, in the long run, far more valuable than the furniture they contained).
The dedication took place in November, 2013.