Week 1 (“Modern Totem” – sculpture by Martin Beach)


Art, Architecture and Design in Columbus, Indiana

This article spotlights a particular building or some other aspect of Columbus design. I welcome your comments, corrections and additions. Please share your experience and perceptions of these uniquely Columbus projects.

2014-07-17 13-24-57 - IMG_5579“Modern Totem” – a sculpture by Martin Beach

  • Artist: Martin Beach
  • Installed: 2014
  • Location: walkway between the Columbus Visitors Center and the Library
  • Materials: Mesabi Black Granite and Indiana Limestone

This is a permanent installation of public art commissioned especially for the rejuvenated library plaza and the new walkway/public space between the library and the Visitors Center. The sculpture was commissioned in October 2013 by the Columbus Area Arts Council (CAAC) and the Columbus Museum of Art and Design (CMAD). Funds for the commission came from private donations, especially from a special fundraiser during the 2012 and 2013 unCommon Cause galas which are an annual Arts Council fundraiser. The sculpture was intended to be a large free-standing work of art as a centerpiece in the landscaped walkway area between the Visitors center and the library. The landscaped brick walkway was enhanced with seating and features free outdoor wireless as well as electrical plugins for laptops or phone chargers. The space is meant to be a gathering space, a place to sit and relax as well as an enhanced portal between the two buildings.

Beach was selected for the commission because of his passion for stone as well as his local connections. Modern Totem is his first large scale work. His previous works have been small enough to be carried by hand. There are currently several of these smaller works on display at the Visitors Center. Many of his works are in private collections and he has numerous pieces available for sale. Beach is a young artist who is considered a rising star in the art world.

Beach chose the Native American totem as an inspiration. Totems have long been a symbol of identity, family, community and kinship which he felt was perfect for this location meant to be a community and visitor gathering space. A modernistic version of these totems, Beach feels that there is a living, breathing essence within the stone. As one walks around the asymmetrical shape, one sees and feels the expanding and contracting curves and the spiraling edges. It fits in well with the modernist architecture of the adjacent I.M. Pei designed library and Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church.

Modern Totem was fabricated using Mesabi Black Granite and Indiana Limestone. The granite came from the Coldspring Quarry in Babbit, Minnesota and was personally selected by the artist who brought 11,00 lbs. of stone back to Columbus driving through the ice and snow during a harsh Minnesota winter. The final sculpture stands at 9’2″ high, is 40″ wide and weighs nearly 8000 lbs. The work is in an obelisk form consisting of two stacked black granite stones sitting on a base of Indiana limestone representing a modern, minimalist interpretation of a totem. The two large masses are slightly curved and turned 15″ from each other connected by an hidden metal rod. He describes the vertical form as an “upward swirl of motion that forms a fluctuating visual energy”. The outer surface has a highly polished texture to contrast and complement the matte red texture of the nearby brick of the library. This was his largest work to date and one of his first works in a vertical plane. His earlier work was on much smaller scale and more horizontal in nature. This project required about 800 hours of his labor to complete.

The sculpture was installed on June 20, 2014 with the assistance of Taylor Brothers Construction. Modern Totem was dedicated on Friday, June 27, 2014 at 6:30 PM just prior to the evening “Live on the Plaza” concert in the adjacent Cleo Rogers Memorial Library plaza featuring the nationally acclaimed group “Black Violin”. Speakers at the dedication included Martin Beach, Karen Shrode (executive director of the Columbus Area Arts Council), Lynn Lucas (executive director of the Columbus Area Visitors Center), Beth Booth Poor (executive director of the Bartholomew County Public Library), and Brooke Hawkins (Columbus Museum of Art and Design). Installation of the work was considered a kick off for the Columbus Sculpture Biennial, a re-invigoration of a previous program bringing varying pieces of public art into Columbus on a temporary, rotating basis. “Modern Totem” however will be a permanent part of the Columbus Public Art landscape.

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Facing the Visitors Center entry
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the Visitors Center
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the Visitors Center
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the library plaza
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the First Christian Church
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the Visitors Center
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the Visitors Center
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the library plaza
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the library
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

2014-07-02 14-30-59 - IMG_5473
Facing the library
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

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Facing the library plaza
(photo by Ricky Berkey)

Proposal drawing
(graphic used pending permission)

Proposal drawing
(graphic used pending permission)

Proposal drawing
(graphic used pending permission)

The Artist

Martin BeachMartin Beach

  • Born: 1988 in Ventura, California
  • Education: Evergreen State College – Olympia, Washington (2010)

Originally studying computer science and mathematics (his parents were both computer engineers), Beach switched to a visual arts program in his junior year of college. While he was still in college he was introduced to stone as an artistic medium and never looked back. Moving to Bloomington, Indiana to be closer to family, he also hoped to find employment working in stone in the limestone rich region of Indiana. Working as a studio assistant to Bloomington sculptor Dale Enochs, he learned and honed his own skills. Working full-time in landscaping to help fund his work, he began seriously working as a sculptor on his own. He is considered a rising star in the art world and his work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions around the midwest.

He has worked mostly on smaller scale pieces but rose to the Columbus, Indiana challenge for the much larger “Modern Totem” sculpture near the library plaza. He has been strongly influenced by Dale Enochs of Bloomington Indiana, Bob Leverich of Olympia, Washington and Verena Schwippert of Arlington, Washington. He cites other influences such as artists and architects Isamu Noguchi, Antoni Gaudí, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Dan Kiley, Roberto Burle Marx and Henry Moore.

His hope as an artist is to infuse a material that is generally seen as something inert and inanimate with a life force through minimalist form, embodying a very primal but refined elegance but still keeping it clearly recognizable as stone. He contrasts curves with line, rounded with pointed, light with dark, smooth with rough, etc.., until the stone develops its own personal identity. The main tools of his trade are hammers, chisels, grinders and polishers.

Selected Martin Beach Projects

*Note: Martin has many projects piling up that he might be willing to part with for a small fee 🙂 See his website listed below to get in touch with the artist. Many of the works below are pictured on his website:

2012: “Alter and Sacrifice”
2012: “Hills and Rivers”
2012: “Hopscotch with Dan Kiley” – in a private collection
2012: “Untitled Litomorph” – in a private collection
2012: “Lunar Colony van der Rohe” – in a private collection
2012: “Tribe” – in a private collection
2012: “Jupiter Probe”
2012: “UFO” – in a private collection
2012: “Dymaxion” – in a private collection
2013: “Slowly Flowing” – in a private collection
2013: “Sprint
2013: “Grazing Arch” – in a private collection
2013: “Vessel” – in a private collection
2013: “Nautical Manuever” – in a private collection
2013: “Tiered Horizons”
2013: “Brancusian Obelisk” – in a private collection
2014: “Modern Totem” – Columbus, Indiana library plaza


Martin Beach website

Modern Totem Blog on the Columbus Arts Council website

Columbus Area Arts Council

Columbus Area Visitors Center

Bartholomew County Public Library

City of Columbus: official City of Columbus website

Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives

Columbus Indiana Architecture Digital Archives: A small portion of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives available online from the IUPUI digital library

3D Models of Columbus Architecture Executed in Google SketchUp:

The Republic Newspaper – Columbus, Indiana newspaper

Historic Columbus Website – David Sechrest’s tribute to Columbus History

Historic Columbus Message Board – a companion interactive forum to the David Sechrest historical website

Bartholomew County Historical Society

Columbus Area Arts Council

Click HERE for a Calendar of Upcoming Events in the Columbus Area.

Click HERE for information about Tours of Columbus Architecture and Design including the Miller House.

Ricky Berkey

Email me: rickyberkey@gmail.com

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