Former professor turns trash into sculptures

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Junior Communications and Sciences disorder major, Samantha Sheppard, admires the junk mail sculptures that are displayed on tables in the School of Architecture.

Photo Credit: Shila Farahani | Daily Texan Staff

More than 1,000 sculptures made out of credit cards, brochures, tops of Bluebell Ice Cream containers and paper towel rolls are displayed on a table in Goldsmith Hall.

Architecture professor emeritus Richard Swallow began cutting, folding and creating sculptures in January 2011 as a way to occupy his time after the loss of his wife. Swallow said he spent around a year completing the sculpture project, working on about three sculptures per day. He said people encouraged him to put the sculptures on display, and the exhibit launched in the School of Architecture gallery April 4. It will remain there until April 28.

“My wife passed away in December 2010, and I started to cut up credit cards that we had gathered for about 50 years,” he said. “My fingers started folding them and making little sculptural pieces, and I just kept doing this.”

Swallow didn’t stop at credit cards. He proceeded to conform his daily junk mail into elaborate designs to add to the collection.

“It kept me occupied for a year, and some of my colleagues said, you ought to exhibit those,” he said.

The project expanded until Swallow had created more than 1,000 unique sculptures, which he said are all distinct and individually designed.

“My goal was to make every single one of them different, and I think I accomplished that,” he said. “Each one of them has some thought behind it, but they weren’t preconceived. It was more spontaneous.”

The gallery is split between Swallow’s work and the drawings of a former colleague in the School of Architecture, John Blood.

“Richard was my instructor a long time ago,” Blood said. “The sculptures [he did] are pretty fabulous. The gallery is a nice combination of work that we’ve done.”

For Swallow, an interest in architecture molded at an early age, and being a professor wasn’t a field he thought he’d enter, he said.

“I wanted just the opposite. I wanted to be an architect, and I dreamed of designing everything as a teenager,” he said. “It started with automobiles and grew into buildings.”

Upon graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, he went on to graduate school at MIT but said the New England area didn’t offer much opportunity for building.

“I was looking for greener pastures,” he said, “and Austin turned out to be perfect.”

School of Architecture lecturer Allison Gaskins said Swallow’s unique approach to the project reflects his gifts and approach to life.

“Richard is of a generation of architects who know how to make things,” she said. “He does a lot of that through his hands, through drawing or sculpting, and for me the exhibit is a clear depiction of how he is and how he thinks.”

Swallow said the project served as a way to release his emotions during a tough time in his life.

“It turned into a way to fill up my time, and I’ve referred to it as my relief from grief project,” he said. “I don’t know where it’s going to go now, but it was fun.”

Beside the displays Swallow crafted is a table, several bags of junk mail and a few pairs of scissors, inviting others to cultivate their own imaginations using Swallow’s unique idea.