‘Joy of Discovery’

Thursday, August 9, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:43 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008
John Sastre and Wes Burt, from Architectural Glass Art Inc., attach hoops to the main frame of a sculpture in MU’s Bond Life Sciences Center. The final piece will weigh about 3,000 pounds and hang from the building’s central atrium.

COLUMBIA - The pale morning sun was just peeking over the horizon when a rental truck rolled into MU’s Bond Life Sciences Center parking lot at 7 a.m. last Thursday. John Sastre, Bart Herre and Wes Burt, installers with Architectural Glass Art in Louisville, Ky., hopped out and, after discussing some details of the project with a couple of MU maintenance crew members, they got to work unloading equipment — hoists, tools, ladders and plywood boards — into the McQuinn Atrium.

At 9 a.m., the unloading halted, and MU employees and students gathered in the atrium to watch in amazement as the crew squeezed a hydraulic lift through a 32-inch-wide door. The lift, when it was extended later, was 90 feet high and reached to the top of the Life Sciences Center.

A look ahead

To see model representations of the sculpture and how it will look in two weeks, go to The Architectural Glass Art Web site at

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Once the crowd cleared, the installers continued unloading the truck, but there were no more hoists or ladders. Soon, the atrium floor was covered with the real reason for all the hubbub: bright, thin spirals and rings of rolled, brushed aluminum.

Thus began the “Joy of Discovery” sculpture’s journey from separate pieces of aluminum, steel and acrylic into what will be a work of art 75 feet high, 8 feet in diameter and weighing about 3,000 pounds. The sculpture was commissioned last year through a $300,000 gift from Al and Mary Agnes McQuinn and was designed by Kenneth F. vonRoenn Jr., who is also the president, owner and lead designer of Architectural Glass Art.

When finished, a central aluminum spine will arch from south to north through the atrium. The spine, which consists of eight pieces bolted together in one unified curve, will reach down from the arched glass roof and into the spaces on either side of the stacked bridges that bisect the five-story atrium.

“The central spine represents the unity of the Life Sciences Center in which there are separate research departments,” vonRoenn said.

To represent these separate departments, the spirals and rings that now decorate the atrium floor will hang from the spine along with eight dichroic acrylic discs. In his initial presentation to the university, vonRoenn wrote that the aluminum rings represent areas of study and the cables that hold the pieces together represent the interconnections between these areas of study and the individuals within the center.

The discs, as well as the helixes that will spiral around the rings — to suggest the DNA double helix structure — were originally to be made of dichroic glass, but they will now be made of the dichroic acrylic material.

“It’s a material that changes color depending on the direction of the light and the angle from which it is viewed,” vonRoenn said.

Images within the discs will be photographs of microscopic forms that represent the center’s current research, and $25,000 of the original $300,000 gift has been set aside as an endowment to ensure the discs can be updated as research continues to evolve through the years.

VonRoenn said he will come to Columbia sometime near the end of next week to put the finishing touches on the sculpture; right now he plans to arrive on Aug. 16, but that could change depending on how far along Sastre and his crew are.

VonRoenn’s inspiration for the piece was based on research he did on the center but also came from the continued input of the McQuinns.

“They’ve been very involved in a very positive way,” vonRoenn said.

Jack Schultz, director of the Bond Life Sciences Center, also said the McQuinns have been involved in the whole process.

“They even flew to Kentucky to consult with the artist about colors and make sure everything is just right,” Schultz said.

An official sculpture dedication will be held at the center on Sept. 25, and both the McQuinns and vonRoenn are likely to attend.

Page von Wheeler, vice president of marketing for Architectural Glass Art, said the company has scheduled the installers to be in Columbia until Aug. 30 to complete the suspended sculpture, but she thinks it will likely be done before then.

Sastre, Herre and Burt are concerned with the tasks at hand.

“We’ve got a lot to do, but mostly we’ll just take our time and do it right,” Herre said. “This will probably be the hardest thing we’ve ever done.”

Sastre agreed.

“You can’t rush this kind of thing.”

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