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Fabricating Art as an Engineer

Olin College alumna Mary Morse recently returned to campus at the invitation of then-Library Director Jeff Goldenson to install a commissioned work of art in the reading room. Morse graduated from Olin in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering, but always felt drawn art.

“I consider myself both an engineer and an artist. It’s not really a synthesis for me … a lot of the things I make definitely have some science or geometry background and it tends to be project-based and discovery-based where I get an idea and have to pursue it,” said Morse.

She met Goldenson in her junior year and connected with him over a shared interest in books, art and design. Earlier this year, as the Library staff, including Emily Gerrier and Maggie Anderson, cast about for an artist to make a custom art installation for the finished reading room, Morse immediately came to mind.

“They wanted something along the wall across from the door that would catch your eye and pull you into the space and knit everything together,” said Morse. The idea appealed to Morse because she loves the room with its natural light and greenery inside and out.

Since graduating from Olin, Morse has been working for a consulting firm in the Bay area as a mechanical engineer. But whenever she has the time she spreads out material in her small apartment and turns her living space into an artist’s studio. 

Her influences are varied. “I really enjoy the work of Sol Lewitt and Robert Irwin as well as Tauba Auerbach. Enjoying their art makes me want to push through my own projects to cultivate my own artistic identity,” said Morse.

Pushing through, though, isn’t always easy. To make this installation, Morse enlisted the help of a friend to drill more than 200 holes a dozen pieces of wood. She spent weeks looking for just the right kind and color of rope, eventually dyeing 300 feet of it in her apartment.

The end result is a piece about 5’ by 20’ comprised of a system of wooden dowels with roped draped across it. As the spacing and angle of the wood changes, the ropes attached to each dowel are pulled into tension or allowed to drape freely.

Morse traveled to Olin in April to install the work with the help of Olin students.