If you combine engineering skills with unbridled creativity, your result will be the work of the UNC Asheville STEAM Studio. The studio was founded in 2016 as a collaboration between the engineering and sculpture departments. And since then, Joint NC State/UNC Asheville Mechatronics Engineering Program students have been pumping out multidisciplinary creations stemming from academic classes and special projects.
Let’s dive into three particularly inventive + impressive projects that have come out of the studio.
Storytime at Woodland Cove
You might recognize these creatures from the North Carolina Arboretum’s Winter Lights exhibit. Students from UNC Asheville’s senior engineering design class worked together to create an animatronic elk, bear, bobcat, raccoon, goose, and squirrel. But it wasn’t just engineering students that brought these animals to life — students from the drama department gave the creatures their storytelling voices, and the animals were dressed with help from the department’s costume designers.
In the fall of 2019, you may have seen this massive animatronic sculpture installed at 44 Collier Ave. UNC Asheville students worked with local artist Mel Chin to construct the work at the STEAM Studio. The body of the sculpture was modeled after the USS Nightingale, while the figurehead depicts Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind (aka The Swedish Nightingale). The motions of Jenny’s head and body were programmed based on movements of one of the university’s theater students.
This interactive sculpture resides in the Asheville Art Museum and features a manually controlled elevator that lets you send small metal balls flying down the track, which depicts the curves and peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The piece was created by STEAM Studio Design Specialist Chas Llewellyn and Director Sara Sanders in conjunction with students of SkillSet — a program open to all but focusing on underserved communities and female-identified and gender-expansive students to help bridge the gap in STEAM education.
Eager to see some of the works from the STEAM Studio? A selection of pieces are currently on display at the S. Tucker Cooke Gallery in Owen Hall on UNC Asheville’s campus. Head there on Monday, Sept. 18 before the exhibit closes at 7 p.m. to see the innovative creations.