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ECU student design chosen as centerpiece for memorial garden

Feb. 28, 2013

By Crystal Baity
ECU News Services

As a kid, East Carolina University student Donald “Trey” Martin III would hang around his dad’s shop welding scrap pieces of metal, trying to make a bigger or taller creation than his last.

Now that boyhood pastime is the 28-year-old’s major at ECU.  

Last spring Martin’s design for a sculpture – the centerpiece of the Student Memorial Garden - was selected from three student finalists in a campus-wide vote.
Since then, Martin has devoted thousands of hours to completing the almost 12-foot bronze and granite piece in time for the unveiling and dedication Feb. 22.
It helped that his dad, Ed, who is a master welder, and his dad’s equipment in Johnston County have been at Trey’s side the past 10 months. Dad even helped him install the piece on Feb. 16 – in the middle of a rare eastern North Carolina snowfall.
“I can’t stand to spend money on something I can do myself and having the tools to manipulate metal at my fingertips solves a lot of that,” he said. “It’s been a big learning experience. I’ve learned more doing this than I have doing anything else.”

Ed can do just about everything there is to do in welding, but recently has been focusing on rod iron hand rails, gates and fences, Trey said. “People say we look just alike,” he said. “He has a good sense of humor and can work circles around most anyone.”
Martin and his father installed the memorial garden sculpture during a rare eastern North Carolina snowstorm (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Ed and other family members were at the dedication, along with Trey Martin’s girlfriend, Anna Koger, a recent ECU art education graduate. She supported Trey through the long hours, holidays and weekends finishing the piece, which grew from his original 9-foot plan.

“There was a lot of bending and banging together on the anvil,” Trey said. “It’s one total piece from the very bottom to the very top, it’s all connected, all blended.”

Forklifts, chain hoists and a handmade rotating cutter, while not everyday art tools, were used in the creation of the bronze piece. Thousands of pounds of sand - all hand-scooped - were used to create the sand molds that provided the outline of the piece.  “Everything is just so heavy,” Trey said. “You can’t just grab something and toss it around.”

Several friends, current and recent ECU graduates in the School of Art and Design, helped with the sculpture: Andy Denton, Mac Grady, Josh Raney, Colton Winchester and Jonathan Burger, who also was one of the three finalists in the contest.

And sculpture professors Dr. Carl Billingsley and Dr. Hanna Jubran, who oversaw the memorial design contest, helped Trey cast and mold the sculpture and provided advice along the way.
“The whole concept was to create a memorial by students, for students,” Jubran said. It also gave students the chance to work on an active commission. Students have done similar – albeit smaller – annual projects for the New Bern airport and the Greenville Museum of Art.
The Student Memorial Garden was commissioned for $35,000, which included $10,000 in site preparation, and paid by the Student Government Association. Twenty-three entries were received before the field was narrowed to three, Jubran said.
Trey’s idea for the sculpture came from a piece he had created just weeks before the contest was announced.  The sculpture, called “Rough Patch,” had the same circle except with a wedge of cast iron. “Since I just did the circle piece, I thought of the circle of life, and to have it broken at the top, and then the doves,” Trey said.

A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Trey lost friends in Fallujah in 2004. “About three-fourths of my company got Purple Hearts. I’ve been to the services, and I’ve seen memorials that I felt captured the essence… and others I didn’t understand,” Martin said, adding that he wanted the memorial he created to be recognizable, not something that people would scratch their head in wonder. “I wanted to use that experience, and make this piece.”

When he finished his tour of duty, Trey started out in engineering, then business, then athletic training. “Then I saw all the sculptures on campus and put two and two together,” he said.

He said he likes sculpture because “you can be heavy-handed with it. I like to beat things with hammers. You can heat stuff up and bend it. Just the satisfaction of taking a flat piece of steel and cutting it, and shaping it, and welding it, and grinding it, and turning it into something completely different,” Trey said. “It’s like an erector set. Who didn’t like erector or Lincoln Logs?”

Just like that kid in his dad’s shop more than a decade ago.