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Envisioning a Sculpture for MAA Headquarters

MAA headquarters is located in northwest Washington, D.C., near Dupont Circle. The building is a five-story brownstone with the newly refurbished Carriage House in the back and a gated garden in front. Situated in an historic district, there is little to denote that it's the home of the largest association devoted to undergraduate mathematics in the world, aside from a small sign near the door. Sculptor Jeff Chyatte wants to change that.

The sculptor, professor, and dentist has submitted a proposal to sculpt an icosahedron for the front garden. The proposed sculpture, titled "Elements," will be made of three intersecting planes connected by metal rods linking the perimeter points. The design incorporates the golden ratio 1.618. . . .

The MAA Executive Committee considered Chyatte's proposal, but rejected it, citing cost and design issues.

In a recent interview, Chyatte talked about his proposed design, background, and the connection between art and mathematics.

On your website you describe yourself as a dentist, professor, and sculptor. That's a unique combination. How did those careers develop?
Throughout school I pursued a science-based curriculum.  The common denominator to coursework was math.  It was present in chemistry, physics, literature, and art, demonstrating the ubiquitous relevance of the mathematical sciences.  I went on to get my doctorate in dentistry, concentrating on anatomy and physiology.  Dentistry is comprised of the sciences, arts, and aesthetics.  In a sense it is sculpture, where perfection is needed on a very small scale. Splitting time between private practice, sculpture, and lecturing was a natural progression for me.

What medium do you prefer to sculpt in?
I concentrate on metals and stone because they are drawn from the earth and have unique resilient properties, textures, sounds, and hues. Granite, sandstone, steel, and copper exhibit particularly distinctive tonal and tactile qualities. Their visual characteristics provide for a multitude of combinations. Stone exhibits a range of textures and grains while metals can be given a patina to alter their appearance.  Both steel and stone convey permanency and strength but can exhibit the effects of degradation.

Sign outside MAA Headquarters

How did your relationship with MAA develop?
Through art, the magic of math became a passion for me.  Many of my works depend on math in terms of dimensions and proportions.  My sculpture “Theorem” was designed and built to be a novel 3D method of demonstrating a hyperbolic curve in nickel, wood, and marble. This kinetic sculpture used mathematical formulas to guide the fabrication. “Theorem” went on to be displayed at Touchstone Gallery in Washington, D.C., and an academic paper was prepared to discuss the formulas.  Math Horizons magazine ran an article on the sculpture in April 2009.  That inspired me to further explore the connections between math and art and to design and fabricate a piece representative of the MAA: the icosahedron.  That sculpture incorporates a multitude of mathematical subtleties and implications. The icosahedron, as I designed it, would be built by the intersection of three high-carbon-steel, golden-rectangular plates on the x, y, z planes.  The 12 vertices would be connected with welded rod. Further, the golden rectangles reflect Fibonacci sequence dimensions. The resulting sculpture—"Elements"—inspires viewers to explore the relationships between math, Euclid, Fibonacci, and art.


"Elements" by Jeff Chyatte


For more information on Jeff Chyatte's work, check out his website. His sculpture was one of some fifty other pieces of art on display in the "Exhibition of Mathematical Art" at the 2010 Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Francisco. 

News Date: 
Monday, December 21, 2009