While Jean Liberty was busy with a career that involved the development of backpacks astronauts used on the moon, cryogenic refrigerators, water purification plants and gas systems for computer-chip factories, he kept one eye on the artistic aspects of the items he was helping design.
"There is beauty to mechanical systems," he said. "It's hard for the layman to see it. Much of the equipment I was involved with had miles and miles of piping in intricate shapes and heat exchangers. They're not normally thought of as artistic work, but they really are."
Today, the retired Crossville, Tenn., resident has parlayed his piqued imagination into abstract art. And 43 pieces of his work are on display in an exhibit, "Stone, Metal and Motion," at the Shanks Center for the Arts in Crossville through June 30.
Of those, several are mobiles, for which Liberty was inspired by the late Alexander Calder, the inventor of the form.
"It's the beauty of the motion and shapes and all," he said. "The combination of motions and shapes, particularly with abstract sculpture, is never the same."
Liberty, 73, said the Warehouse Gallery is the perfect setting for the exhibition. There the mobiles -- their pieces welded or attached with fasteners -- hang from roof beams with light offering interesting shadows,
One of those sculptures, the 12-foot tall "Spring Flowers" installed on the floor at the entrance of the gallery, includes bright yellow metal petals on aluminum stalks that emanate from a Crab Orchard stone base.
A similar Liberty sculpture, which has colorful springlike flowers and stalks, was commissioned by Cumberland Artisans for Creative Expression. It was unveiled above the Main Street sidewalk at the entrance to the Shanks Center when the exhibit opened earlier this month.
"I like bright colors," he said. "Many of my mobiles have reds, yellows and whites in very brilliant colors."
Liberty said his favorite sculpture is "Magical Harp," which was purchased by some Crossville residents for the town's public library and borrowed for the exhibit.
It features red, monofilament threads woven into metal pieces to give the appearance of a twisted harp.
Liberty uses Crab Orchard stone -- harvested from the nearby Crab Orchard, Tenn., area -- as a base for many of his sculptures.
"The stone is very pretty," he said, "and lends itself to abstract shapes [appearing] to be growing out of the stone."
Gallery coordinator Sharron Eckert said 427 students in nine area schools recently toured the exhibits at the Shanks Center.
When they entered the Warehouse Gallery with Liberty's work, "it was just amazing," she said.
"Their jaws dropped, and they used all those words [like] awesome, wow, superhero. It's a terrific thing."
Liberty has previously exhibited at the Association for Visual Arts in Chattanooga and had a piece on display in the River City Co. as part of an Art in the Workplace program. He said he didn't pursue his avocation in earnest until he retired and moved from Pennsylvania to Crossville.
"I had a very busy career in engineering and business," he said. "I traveled a lot overseas. There was no time after the family for artistic work."
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...