Baut Studios Chooses Material for Casino Themed Construction

Artist Turns to Advanced Polyurethanes
to Build “Coal to Diamonds” Sculpture

Casting large blocks of rigid polyurethane to replicate geologically varied coal samples from Pennsylvania mines, world-class artist Gerhard Baut has created a 20-foot tall sculpture as the signature architectural feature at the new Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs casino in Wilkes Barre, Penn. The base of the sculpture transforms from fossilized “soft” coal and peat-like polyurethane layers into bituminous and, ultimately, hard anthracite-like forms. The coal-like structure then transitions into 550 sparkling diamond-like clear polyurethane shapes suspended on cables that stretch to the casino lobby ceiling.

 

Baut and his team of craftsmen chose to build the sculpture using advanced polyurethanes from Innovative Polymers, Saint Johns, Michigan. The mercury-free materials, including a high-strength, high flexural modulus system and a rapid casting, water clear product, exhibit the handling and performance characteristics needed to accurately replicate varied coal surface features. The polyurethanes also accommodate hand-forming of individual cast pieces over a substructure.

Gerhard Baut, Artistic Director of The Baut Studios, Swoyersville, Penn., explains, “We discovered a new artistic medium with the fine-art quality of Innovative Polymers polyurethanes. The highly controllable properties of the products supported our ability to express the creative concept that led to the “Coal to Diamonds” sculpture.” He adds, “We found that the polyurethanes could be bent and shaped using techniques that I learned in handling glass when I worked as a Venetian glassblower.”

Background

The unique Baut Studios sculpture is one of a series of architectural elements commissioned for the new $208 million, 300,000 square foot Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs gaming and entertainment complex. Earl y in the planning stages for the casino, the project management team sought to pay tribute to the Northeastern Pennsylvania region by utilizing local craftspeople to provide much of the design and construction skills for Mohegan Sun. Located near the new casino, The Baut Studios was an ideal choice for the sculpting project. Established in 1898 and in continuous operation since 1927, The Baut Studios remains a family-run enterprise that is world-renowned for its stained glass artwork, a bronze sculpture of Pope John Paul II which is part of the Vatican Collection in Italy, and numerous other religious and institutional artistic glass pieces.

According to Bobby Soper, President and CEO of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, “The (Baut) sculpture embraces the history, culture and community of the local area.”

Building the Sculpture

The polyurethane sculpture is the product of a multi-step process that began with the conceptual design and followed through silicone rubber moldmaking, substructure construction and, finally, addition of the cast polyurethane sections.

In developing the sculpture, Gerhard Baut drew inspiration from his surroundings and the long-term involvement of his family and neighbors with the coal mining industry. After seeing the variety of coal forms and surfaces in the samples he obtained from a mine located just ¼-mile from The Studios, Baut decided to create the sculpture base using seven spiral-shaped polyurethane bands cast from geologically different coals.

To begin, Baut and his craftsmen made a series of nearly 100 silicone rubber molds from large, locally mined pieces of coal. At the same time, workers were building a substructure against which 1,000 lbs. of polyurethane would be applied. For needed strength and dimensional stability, the base was constructed from aluminum and plywood and then covered with individual squares of flame-retardant polyurethane foam.

Next, Innovative Pol ymers IE-3075 polyurethane was cast into the silicone rubber molds, yielding 4-foot square x ½-inch thick coal-like parts weighing between 25 and 30 pounds. The large polyurethane pieces were demolded while still soft and re-formed on the structure to produce the resulting sculpture that looks as if it were carved from coal.

Suspended Parts

For the “diamonds” part of the sculpture, Baut installed a series of cables extending from the top of the base to the ceiling of the casino lobby. Suspended immediately above the spiraling coal layers are a series of black “coal” blocks cast from the same polyurethane used in the base. The blocks slowly change shape to become diamond-like tetrahedrons. The “diamonds” that begin as a light black color, turn to gray, light gray and, ultimately, multi-faceted prisms of water-clear Innovative Pol ymers RC-72DC polyurethane that glitter like diamonds.

Conclusion

Baut summarizes saying, “The polyurethanes used for the Mohegan Sun project helped turn my artistic vision into the larger-than-life “Coal to Diamonds” sculpture. As we worked on the piece, we gained great appreciation for the stability of the Innovative Polymers materials. The products yielded castings with virtually no defects, even when exposed to changing temperature and humidity extremes. At the Baut Studios, we now view the IE-series and rapid casting polyurethanes as high-end sculpting materials equivalent to marble, wood and bronze.”

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