eustace ’23: exploring life through sculpture

Trees, a senior capstone exhibit by art studio and environmental studies major Michael Eustace ’23 will take place from April 25-30 at the Zilkha Gallery here on campus. An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, April 26 from 4 to 6 pm.

What inspired you to do your project?
My concentration within the studio art major is sculpture, but when I came into this year, I had lost my infatuation with the practice. I spent the summer working for an architecture consultancy firm that does mainly institutional work to make all sorts of projects “sustainable,” and it was pretty amazing to be a part of that. The work being done felt so tangibly impactful.

But nevertheless, I was slated to TA for Sculpture I during in fall 2023, and from the first class I fell in love with sculpture again. Its ability to convey ideas, manipulate and prompt thinking about events/issues, talk about identity (and so, so much more) grasped me as it had when I took Sculpture I and II. My TA experience re-inspired me to do a thesis in sculpture.

After hopping back onto the sculpture train with some helpful prodding from my advisors, the rest of the first semester into the beginning of the second semester was a process of figuring out what it was that I wanted to say. As is in line with my environmental studies linked major, it boiled down to wanting to somehow comment on how it feels to exist in today’s world, which for me is indelibly linked to grappling with the massive change and loss perpetuated by the human hand that is occurring throughout ecosystems and environments. This is what inspired me to make what I’m making right now!

Michael Eustace ’23, presenting his work in progress in ENVS Senior Colloquium.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the class taught by my advisor, Helen Poulos, called The Forest Ecosystem has been essential in decisions I’ve made in fabricating my sculptures. In the sculptures, I’m using sections of five trees cut for lumber processing, and the choice of tree I’m using is fully dictated by what I learned in her class, so thank you to the moon, Helen!

What has the process been like completing these projects and how did you go about doing it?
On the whole, the process has been challenging and extremely fulfilling. In sculpture, you’re constantly responding to your materials and ideas that arise from the manipulation of those materials. And thus, constantly refining and adapting your use of those materials and the thinking that comes throughout the entirety of the process. It’s a constant feedback between thinking, making, and reacting to one’s making: you think, make, react and think, make, react and think, make, on and on, with drawing often thrown in there.

To arrive at the full-scale sculpture, I went through tons of iterations and prototypes at a smaller scale with the materials I’m using, and then a prototype at the full scale, and then it’s on to making the full-scale sculptures!

What is one challenge you faced?
One challenge faced was the sourcing of materials and figuring out fabrication. Often with sculpture, you’re building something that no one has ever really built before, so there isn’t an established way of doing what it is that you want to do. You have to go and get the specific types and cuts of materials, which involves heavy research and consulting of people who are experts in the fields of the materials you’re using, and then you have to figure out how to combine these materials, and then how to situate them in relation to each other in the gallery!

Luckily, I found an awesome sawmill in Oxford, Connecticut, run by Joe Arnson and a precision steel fabricator/supplier here in Middletown called Labco Welding, run by Mike LaBella, that really helped me out with materials.

Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you to everyone involved in making this thesis happen! I make my sculptures with you all in mind and I’m so grateful to have been able to learn and keep learning from you all: Christian Nakarado, Jeffrey Schiff, Helen Poulos, Kate TenEyck, Barry Chernoff, Bruce Strickland, Dave Strickland, Paul Theriault, Mike LaBella, Joe Arnson, my studio mate Peter Fulweiler, all of you who helped me think, helped to install and de-install, and so many more. And my Mom, Dad, brothers, dogs, and the rest of my family!