Alfred University News

Alfred University Catalyst Award leads to unique combination of steel and crochet: The hyperbolic pseudosphere "Sit-In Sculpture"

Seven-thousand feet of paracord have been crocheted into a rippling, mathematically coherent circular disc in a collaboration between Alfred University Professor of Sculpture Coral Lambert and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Elizabeth Matson.

The result – a crocheted hyperbolic pseudosphere – will form the soft center of the steel-framed “Sit-In Sculpture” constructed by Lambert and Matson, a project that won the second Alfred University Catalyst Award in honor of Alfred University Professor Emeritus Mary Lum, School of Art and Design, New York State College of Ceramics.

Lum taught in SOAD from 1985 to 2005 before moving to Bennington College, in Vermont. She was a mainstay of the Alfred University community, as well as a visible presence in the New York art world and a persistent voice for critical contemporary culture on campus. Her admirers cite her efforts to bring artists and exhibitions to Alfred and send students and faculty to Paris through her coordination of the Cité Internationale Studio.

Matson and Lambert’s hyperbolic pseudosphere sculpture began with an idea Matson began developing in early 2023 and pursued with Lambert. She had experimented with crocheting small hyperbolic planes and pseudospheres, two of which were featured in The Bridges Conference Art Exhibition in 2022 and 2023, and wanted to expand the work into a project that combined the mathematics of the shape with a multi-intersectional experiment in crafts and public art. Once complete, the sit in sculpture will be exhibited on the Alfred University campus, although a location has not been chosen.

The hyperbolic shape of Matson and Lambert’s pseudosphere derives from a mathematical equation that enlarges the rate at which a circle expands by a factor that exceeds its capacity to continue its circularity. Matson explains: “If you have a line whose length exceeds its capacity for forming the circumference of a circle, the line will be forced to bulge, or ripple. We’ve used a basic equation that makes that rippling consistent, using an increase stitch on every fourth stitch as I crocheted in the round.”

The resulting shape is described as having a constant negative curvature in comparison to a sphere that has constant positive curvature. Matson notes the shape is common in ocean reef formations, 

Matson and Lambert’s finished “Sit in Sculpture” is a combination of crocheting and steel fabrication, with a steel frame supporting the crocheted pseudosphere  by a collection of custom-made steel hooks. Steel rods have been bent and welded to a hand rolled circular frame and form with four standing components for the sculpture.

Matson and Lambert say the collaborative project was so ambitious as to be impossible without the support of the Mary Lum Catalyst Award. The honor was funded by Alfred University alumni wishing to honor the memory of Lum’s teaching: Sandra Murchison (BFA '93), Michelle Siu (BA, Business School '92), Jeff Gillman (BS, Industrial Engineering, '91), and Rebekah Modrak (BFA ‘92); as well as Nick Tobier, who taught Foundations in the School of Art and Design until 2003, and the deans’ offices of the School of Art and Design and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Individuals interested in supporting a future catalyst grant, should contact Lauren Lake, Dean of the School of Art and Design, or Bob Stein, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.