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Sculptor Finds Beauty in Mathematics

  • Susan Logue

Helaman Ferguson's new sculpture is a tribute to the beauty of math.

Recently dedicated at Stony Brook University near New York City, the piece was assembled at his studio in Baltimore. Like all of Ferguson’s sculptures, it was inspired by a mathematical formula.

“This is a description in terms of a mathematical structure called a fiber bundle," Ferguson says. "It’s more than what the sculpture is. It’s how I created it.”

Ferguson isn't the first artist to embrace mathmatics. During Europe's Renaissance, artists like Leonardo DaVinci recognized math's importance in painting and the ancient Greeks investigated musical scales in terms of numerical ratios. Today, math is an important component of digital graphics and animation. And for some artists, like Ferguson, it is the inspiration and subject of their work.

His sculpture, Umbilic Torus SC, is covered with a raised undulating line, called a surface-filling curve, that traces an unbroken path from one segment to the next.
Helaman Ferguson at the dedication of his sculpture, Umbilic Torus SC, at Stony Brook University near New York City. (VOA/D. Schrier)

Helaman Ferguson at the dedication of his sculpture, Umbilic Torus SC, at Stony Brook University near New York City. (VOA/D. Schrier)


Ferguson has a doctorate in mathematics. He used a computer to help design the sculpture, which is made of 144 pieces. Instead of a hammer and a chisel, he used a robot to carve the sandstone blocks that were then cast in bronze.

The artist was the keynote speaker at this year’s Bridges Conference, which highlights the connection between math and art. About 300 people from 30 countries came to Towson University in Baltimore for the annual gathering.

“The subject is very abstract, mathematics, and it is good to be able to connect to other disciplines to make it more colorful,” says Reza Sarhangi, a mathematics professor at Towson who founded the Bridges Organization almost 15 years ago.

This year’s event featured 150 works by 90 artists. All of them celebrate math or use it to design and create their pieces.

“It is true that mathematics can be used in so many things: engineering, computer science," says Reza Sarhangi. "That’s only one aspect of it. Mathematics is also what? Beautiful!”

That’s a sentiment shared by Helaman Ferguson. His sculptures reflect that beauty, a reminder that math is much more than numbers.
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