The UNI Additive Manufacturing and Metal Casting Centers and the UNI Public Art Institute are
collaborating to update the campus sculpture Nature’s Secret.
Nature’s Secret was installed at UNI in the early 1990s. The piece was created by Janet
Loftquist to encourage the viewer to think broadly about nature and time. Nature’s Secret is
modeled after a 40 million-year-old ragweed pollen spore and incorporates massive slabs of
limestone with bronze rods to symbolize the big dipper. The piece was originally created in
concrete and is unfortunately deteriorating. As the Public Art Institute is currently working with
the facilities operations at UNI to oversee the restoration of artwork on campus, they have
sought the assistance of the UNI Additive Manufacturing and Metal Casting Centers to have the
piece cast in cast iron.
The Public Art Incubator creates large scale sculptures for artists. Since it’s establishment in
2011, the Public Art Incubator has done around 40 projects across the country, giving UNI
students the opportunity to work alongside professional artists to create public artworks.
The University of Northern Iowa Additive Manufacturing Center (UNI AMC) is located at the
Cedar Valley TechWorks facility in Waterloo, Iowa and is operated as a core component of the
UNI Metal Casting Center (UNI MCC), in the department of technology. The UNI AMC was
created over six years ago focusing on additive manufacturing for the metal casting industry,
and the UNI MCC was established in 1989.
“This particular project seemed like a great fit to bring to the UNI Additive Manufacturing Center.
We felt like we needed to have it cast and who’s better equipped for that than the UNI AMC and
MCC?” Stated Dan Perry who works for the Public Art Incubator and is a professor for the
Department of Art at UNI.
To restore the sculpture, the UNI AMC will first reverse engineer the sculpture, using a laser
scanner to create a replica of the sculpture in a digital solid model geometry format. The digital
geometry will then be modified to repair the deterioration of the sculpture. From the completed
digital model, a casting rigging design will be created and verified using process simulation
software. Upon a casting solution, a mold and core parting design will be developed for casting.
Once the design is finalized, the UNI AMC will print a sand mold and core set that the UNI MCC
will then assemble for casting the sculpture in iron. Each step of this process will provide
hands-on experience for student employees at the UNI AMC and UNI MCC.
The UNI MCC will deliver the sculpture to the UNI Art Department this fall. After it’s returned, the
Public Art Incubator will engage students in welding the cast sections together, chasing,
applying surface finishes, and installation. After the restoration is complete, Nature’s Secret will
be reinstalled outside of Latham Hall and should last for 100 years.