Sculpting Steel in the Steel City

Thursday, 20 June 2019 09:59 AM Written by 

By day, you’ll find Saige Baxter at the Mobile Sculpture Workshop at Propel Schools where she serves as a welding mentor for Pittsburgh youth. The outreach program of the Industrial Arts Center gives the community an opportunity to design and complete public art while learning proper welding techniques. However, Baxter’s days are entrenched with wielding fire, melting metals and learning about communities.

The Pittsburgh native attended Seton Hill University, where she originally studied painting. After taking a sculpture class, her career quickly shifted paths. Since then, Baxter has worked diligently in the metal arts and created several site-specific outdoor sculptures. Her focus has been on creating public outdoor art. She’s now shifting to creating indoor structures.

Baxter was also named The Emerging Artist of The Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Media in February 2019. You can look forwarding to seeing Baxter’s work in a solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts alongside Dee Briggs, The Established Artist of the Year.

Saige Baxter, photo by Murphy Moshetta
Saige Baxter, photo by Murphy Moshetta

For those that don't know you, tell us about yourself and your art practice.

I am a steel sculptor from a steel city, embracing Pittsburgh’s metal history. My work focuses on welded steel and metal fabrication for large-scale outdoor sculpture. Each piece plays between a deconstructivist and minimalist style with a strong focus on linear patterns. Gold is heavily used as tribute to my admiration for Byzantine work throughout Eastern art history.
As a public artist, my work usually develops from community engagement. Normally this involves researching relationships, culture and education to understand the heart and soul of an area. Without knowing what makes a community tick, it is nearly impossible to appropriately design work for the audience.

During the summer months, I work as a welding mentor for Pittsburgh youth with Mobile Sculpture Workshop at Propel Schools.

Why did you get into this work?

Originally trained as a painter, I chose to make an abrupt turn toward sculpture near the end of my undergraduate career. Once I was introduced to welding, I immediately fell in love with the relationship between heat and metal. Not only was the process empowering, but sculpture also built a bridge between my passion for the arts and community. Through public sculpture, I am able to better understand and serve wider audiences. The beauty of public sculpture is its accessibility to everyone and its power to creatively aid communities through unity, representation and pride.

How has your practice changed over time?

My sculptures previously began with a specific neighborhood or social concept from the public. Recently, I am experimenting with designs that are more personal and begin with myself rather than an outside source. These new pieces will still remain interactive. However, they are designed for indoor display. I am exploring past the outdoor environment and challenging myself to work within interior spaces.

Jennings Womack Memorial sculpture in Greensburg, PA
Jennings Womack Memorial sculpture, located in Greensburg, PA

Lady Fatima sculpture by Saige Baxter, located in Messejana, Portugal

Lady Fatima sculpture by Saige Baxter, located in Messejana, Portugal

What is your dream project?

I am an explorer at heart and always trying to understand the world around me, so traveling for site-specific projects is the ideal dream. I have been honored to have a small taste of this, and it is truly humbling when a new community invites me into their space and teaches me about their world. Every community deserves the chance to share their pride and stories of their neighborhood. It is not my job to invade a community, or to speak over them, I simply aim to listen and learn.

What is your next move for your artistic career?

Currently, I am spending this year working on a large solo exhibition for the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in conjunction with being honored as The Emerging Artist of Pittsburgh. This new display of work is an exciting adventure, and a vital step in my art career.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

“Never stop learning.”

 

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