When the estate of renowned architect/sculptor Tony Smith (1918-1980) recently commissioned the fabrication of one of his designs, called SMOG, Lippincotts, LLC was contracted to coordinate all aspects of the project. This design, which consisted of 45 octahedrons, 15 top prisms, 22 base prisms, 21 cover plate assemblies, and custom-made fastening devices, would present many fabrication challenges.
Lippincotts knew that the fabricator would have to be chosen very carefully. Alfred Lippincott, President of the company, said that the criteria by which the four fabricating firms that they considered were judged were:
- the ability to do precise, detailed work, with special consideration given to aesthetics;
- the capacity to build on a large scale, with a spacious facility and overhead cranes;
- the ability of management to carefully think the project through and solve problems, while always keeping in mind the intent of the artist and his estate.
“After a couple of meetings, it was apparent that if we could solve some manufacturing issues that would improve quality, we would get the job,” states Walter Camp, Vice President, Welding Works. “And, we were confident we could do that.”
SMOG’s design was composed of very precise geometric shapes and mathematical calculations, so we decided to approach this project in a very meticulous manner. After some brainstorming sessions, we developed a unique design and manufacturing plan that addressed all of the estate’s and Lippincotts’ concerns at a reasonable cost. As a result, we were awarded the contract.
We found that we had to be attentive to many challenges during the fabrication of SMOG. Maintaining precision was essential. If the 45 octahedrons were not precisely made, unwanted gaps and openings would result. One of the keys to making the octahedrons was the cast aluminum bulkhead Welding Works designed. The castings were light-weight, yet strong. It was cost-effective to machine all edges and weld preps. These factors greatly reduced our grinding/sanding time and assured a tight fit.
Many hours were spent at the planning stage. Price van der Swaagh, President, Welding Works, developed a complete set of detailed AutoCAD drawings along with carefully planned manufacturing procedures. A custom fixture to assemble and weld the units was designed and built. This, along with our other procedures, allowed us to maintain tolerances of .020″, which Alfred Lippincott termed, “Remarkable, for a fabrication house.”
Other strict requirements of the project were that all surfaces be flat and free of irregularities; that all bolted joints have a .030″ maximum gap; and that all connecting edges be crisp and sharply-defined. Finally, finishing and painting the pieces proved to be especially challenging. Despite over 3500 feet of welds, the final product could not have any visible welds or hardware.
After welding and inspection, each piece was placed into a custom cradle for protection, where it remained for grinding, sanding, priming, final painting, and loading onto the truck for shipment. Another difficult challenge was painting the large, flat panels of the sculpture. We used a two-coat primer system, along with multiple finish coats in black semi-gloss.
In the end, SMOG was completed on budget and a month ahead of schedule. Shipping arrangements were made to Vermont, where it was erected on the campus of Middlebury College. Alfred Lippincott recently stated, “Welding Works’ willingness to respond to our challenges has been very encouraging. We were especially impressed with their attentiveness to details and already have them working on other Tony Smith designs for us.”