Steven Naifeh, a prolific artist and author, recently teamed up with 3D printing service i.materialise to bring to life a 12-foot-tall sculpture he designed for the Eskenazi Museum of Fine Art at the University of Indiana. The piece, which was 3D printed using laser sintering technology, is inspired by desert roses, a natural phenomenon that occurs in desert environments when minerals become clustered in a blossom-like way.

Naifeh has been creating art professionally for about 15 years, but his passion for the arts goes back to when he was a child, traveling the world with his parents, who worked in the U.S. Foreign Service. His time living and traveling in the Middle East has inspired much of his work over the years, and the desert roses have been a specific source of inspiration for some time.

Steven Naifeh Desert Rose Sculpture
(Photo: Shanti Knight | i.materialise)

In early 2019, Naifeh was approached by the Eskenazi Museum of Art, which commissioned him to design a large-scale sculpture for its new atrium. The space called for a tall piece and the museum suggested they were interested in a desert rose-inspired form. With these two elements in his mind, Naifeh got to work creating a stacked petal structure.

“I wanted the petals not to fit just flat, one on top of the other, but to change direction and size,” the artist said. “Even though they had to stack for structural reasons, I wanted them to appear as though they are revolving, so that they had a kind of cyclone effect, to give the work a sense of motion. There was a lot of careful readjustment of the angles in order to create this sense of balance and dynamism.”

Naifeh designed the tall sculpture using CAD, taking various factors into account, including the variable thickness of the petals and the different angles of the petals while maintaining a spine around which the petals could move. Because of the piece’s size—12 feet in height—the artist also had to consider structural integrity, to ensure the piece could stand on its own.

He explained: “In addition to all of the artistic challenges, there were all sorts of technical challenges for separating the petals in a way that the interior rod wouldn’t be visible. There also needed to be a mating surface between each section large enough to satisfy the engineer’s requirements for structural integrity. We didn’t want the thing to collapse!”

Ultimately, the rose desert sculpture was 3D printed in cooperation with i.materialise, which utilized laser sintering and a strong and aesthetic polyamide material. With a fairly tight deadline—the sculpture needed to be in place by a ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 6th—i.materialise was able to print the petals in just three weeks.

The discrete but effective sculpture now stands in a corner of the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s new building, where it draws the eye upwards and embodies the intersection between nature, art and technology.

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