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Professor fosters students' love of 3D art

Anna Doran drops aluminum into a furnace.
Daily Record photo by Shannon West

Professor fosters students' love of 3D art

Dana De La Rosa and Ben Peck hold a crucible full of molten metal for pouring.
Daily Record photo by Shannon West

Professor fosters students' love of 3D art

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Sculpture is a three-dimensional art form that uses a variety of techniques and materials to create visually appealing or emotionally evocative pieces. There is no right way to do it, and there are endless possibilities. Under the Sculpture Interim Area Head Sarah Hirneisen’s guiding hand, students at Texas State University are learning how to transform the ideas in their minds into three dimensional reality.

Hirneisen said she’s always been interested in art and studied glass at Rhode Island School of Design–her initial dip into sculptural media.

“They [RISD] have a lot of great departments, so I really experimented and tried out sculpture,” Hirneisen said. “I did metal casting there. I did electroforming. I did some jewelry classes and ceramics, so when it was time to go to grad school, I wasn’t so interested in pigeon-holing myself just into one media, but I really wanted to do sculpture because it was so all encompassing where you can explore so many different materials.”

Hirneisen took a break from school and went to work for an artist in Napa, California for several years, and then got her graduate degree at Mills College in Oakland, California. Her family later relocated to Austin, and when a fellow member of ICOSA–a 20 member Austin art collective— let her know there was an opening in the sculpture department at TXST, she jumped on the opportunity.

In her own art practice, Hirneisen focuses on gender identity and the ways humans gender the things around us. She said she also focuses on the environment due to the extreme weather that people have been experiencing.

“Specifically, responding to Winter Storm Uri that happened a couple of years ago, and seeing all of the plant life around me dying,” Hirneisen said. “I was casting agave plants that were in my yard, so [I was] casting them, making molds of them as they’re deteriorating and then casting them in resin so that it holds the shape forever, and then doing installations with that. … I’m definitely responding to the things that are around me.”

In addition to casting, Hirneisen likes exploring alternative materials. She said she draws inspiration from the German artist Eva Hesse who would use mold making materials like latex to create her artwork.

“I like to play around with casting rubber. You feel it and you're like, ‘That’s strange, it's soft and I wasn’t expecting it to be soft.’” Hirneisen said. “I do a lot of stuff with resin because you can make resin look like other things. … [I like] thinking about alternative ways to make something look like something else.”

She said the school has a Hollander Beater, which is a machine that takes cotton T-shirts and produces paper pulp.

“I love this idea of recycling something, especially thinking about fast fashion and how it’s such a big pollutant,” Hirneisen said. “You can break down these T-shirts and make it in to castable paper. … I think about it a lot, with the environment, not leaving behind nasty materials and processes and how I can be more careful with what I’m using.”

Hirneisen said she often teaches introductory sculpture classes, and for one of her projects she instructs the students to make forms out of chicken wire and cover them in plaster or paper mache–a commonly used sculptural technique. Currently her introductory students are welding and casting aluminum in plaster molds.

She said the final project will be a found object project. The students are taught both additive and subtractive techniques— removing and adding materials.

“We have other people that teach that as well and we each do it a little bit different,” Hirneisen said. “We [all] really do focus on woodworking, welding, plaster, paper mache.”

Hirneisen said she also teaches soft sculpture, which focuses on fabric, paper casting, weaving and basketry. She also teaches a blended sculpture course, which has students at all levels of the program.

According to Hirneisen, there will be a new internship project for students at TXST with a company that uses concrete to make natural looking play structures. And that is not the only exciting resource that has emerged out of the sculpture department, there is also a sculpture club, led by the club President Emily Nunn and vice president Bekah Porter. The club is available to students, and even staff, of any major.

“We strive to create community while sharing education and resources about various sculpture mediums such as metals, wood, plaster and much more,” Nunn said. “Members participate in monthly local art markets [the monthly Art Squared downtown market] where they get a chance to learn how to display and sell their artwork.”

Thesis level students are required to put on an art show, with Nunn and Porter, along with a couple of other students and club members. The show will be at Mothership Studios, which is located at 20027 San Marcos Hwy 80, Bay 5. The opening night event will be at 6 p.m. on Dec 2 and will include food, drinks and a live D.J.

“We’re calling it Portals of Perception because you can enter these different dimensions and different worlds,” Porter said, adding that each installation will be an invitation to move into the next one. “One of them is going to be this weird, cryptic office. He’s literally building walls and you can go in and interact with the environment.”

To learn more about the mentor herself and see some of her work go to

San Marcos Record

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