A local sculptor who literally shaped a solid segment of Columbus’ public art hopes people can find wonder in his most recent work.

“I would like for them to get a sense of the power of the forms, the richness of the surfaces and to find a sense of mystery,” Ogilville resident Robert Pulley said. “But, the details of what they actually come up with is entirely up to them.”

Pulley’s current free exhibit, “Mud and Fire!” featuring nine larger, finished abstract works and nearly 100 mock-ups of his efforts, runs through Feb. 24 at IU Center For Art + Design, 310 Jackson St. in downtown Columbus. The preliminary pieces, also known as maquettes, are models that the artist uses flesh out and develop ideas and inspiration.

The exhibit includes a few models of Pulley’s well-known pieces that are part of his public, outdoor work, “Ancestral Way,” lining Third Street in Columbus.

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Jennifer Riley, a sometimes-local sculptor and painter who has exhibited her work in major shows in places such as New York City, suggested Pulley include the models, many of them constructed of clay and plastic. She is the curator of the exhibit, curator of the downtown gallery and a contributing editor at ArtCritical.com.

“I trust Jennifer, and I thought that was a good idea since this is not a sales gallery but a teaching gallery,” Pulley said. “In the process of building a piece, those models sometimes turn into something you would never recognize.”

The most imposing work in the display is “Big Stack,” a 10.5-foot clay piece with multi-faceted surface patterns. Pulley always has mentioned that his works offer “a sense of geological age,” among other features.

“I’m really into nature and all its complexities,” the artist said. “I realize that mud and fire are very common things.

“I like the fact that fire transforms the mud.”

Pulley often has spoken of his native Hoosier boyhood that included “frequent solitary walks in the woods and along the creeks and rivers of rural Indiana (that) etched strong impressions into my memory of the varied forms, colors and textures around me. Evidence of the effects of time were everywhere in the rock strata, glacial till and aboriginal artifacts.”

Many area residents know Pulley for his 32 years of teaching art at Columbus North High School. Another of his public works, “Gift of the Sage,” marks the entrance to North’s Judson Erne Auditorium.

Indiana native James Sharp, now living in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, owns one of Pulley’s works, and remains among his fans. Sharp calls Pulley “truly a master of ceramic sculptors. His works clearly stand alone.”

The work of his hands

What: “Mud and Fire!” an exhibit of finished works, mostly in clay, and models, mostly of clay and wax, of Columbus sculptor Robert Pulley.

When: Through Feb. 24. Regular gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Where: IU Center For Art + Design, 310 Jackson St. in Columbus.

Admission: Free.

Information: 812-375-7550 or iucadmai@indiana.edu.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.