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Hard eight: Brothers’ artwork represents city slogan

By David Talley | Published Saturday, September 10, 2016
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Prototype 1

PROTOTYPE – Daniel and Kris Hayhurst hold a 1/12 scale version of their dice sculpture at their metal workshop near Balsora. With third brother Jake, the three operate OneLight Workshop, a furniture and design business. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

At more than 12-feet tall and 4,500 pounds, the Hayhurst brothers’ first public art project is hard to miss.

One block east of Decatur’s courthouse square stand two hollow, steel dice suspended through a feat of engineering and welding, as if midway through a roll. The hulking sculpture, an homage to the city’s slogan – “eighter from Decatur,” started as a joke between brothers Jake, Daniel and Kris Hayhurst, and real estate developer Mark Moran, who commissioned the project.

Members of the Hayhurst family check out the dice in their final resting place just east of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The sculpture marks the first major public art project for the brothers, who grew up in Decatur and own OneLight Workshop, a furniture and design business.

“We were down there in [the parking lot at the corner of Church Street and Walnut where the sculpture now stands], and Mark mentioned painting a dice mural on a wall, and we were, jokingly, like ‘hey, it might be cool to do a sculpture-type thing instead of painting them,'” Jake Hayhurst said. “Mark loved the idea.”

Reflecting on the joke that spurred a multi-month effort to bring the project to life, Daniel Hayhurst drew a contrast between the two time frames.

“It was literally a conversation about a minute long,” he said. “The process leading up to the build of the dice took longer than the build itself. It was probably two months from when we had the prototype out to when we started building.”

After building a 1/12-scale model of the dice for Moran and gaining necessary permissions, Kris Hayhurst said the project was still subject to several engineering studies to determine how much wind the sculpture could withstand and where structural supports needed to be placed to maintain its upright position.

“They had to figure out what speeds of wind it would hold,” he said. “There’s a big thick package of papers of readings about it somewhere. The engineer said he tested it up to 120 mile-per-hour winds.”

The finished product includes roughly 60 feet of internal support joints – a mix of 1/2-inch and 1/4-inch steel beams – angled strategically through the hollow dice.

“We didn’t want to build dice that just sat on the ground,” Daniel Hayhurst said. “Like just have one leaning on another wasn’t enough. We thought if we were going to do it, we wanted it to be able to cantilever out.”

To settle on the final design, Daniel Hayhurst said the team used cedar blocks to visualize different positions for the dice.

“We spent a while thinking about how would it look the best, and we held two [blocks] together at different angles. But then it was like we have this idea, how the heck are we going to weld two giant dice together where it’ll hang over itself suspended in air? That’s where tractors came in.”

Between the workshop’s location on a working farm near Balsora and Jake Hayhurst’s father-in-law’s oilfield service company, the three had access to an arsenal of heavy machinery.

“It was definitely a bigger undertaking than we thought it was going to be,” Jake Hayhurst said. “It was just kind of like, ‘yeah, let’s do this, it’ll be fun.’ But then there was a lot of tool investment. Thankfully my father-in-law owns pieces of equipment and we were able to lift this 4,000-pound thing with as opposed to trying to figure out how to do without.”

Kris Hayhurst said the three used an assortment of tow ropes and tractor barrels to position the finished dice for welding, which also required the team purchase a more capable welder.

“Any time we had to work underneath [the leaning block] it was a little scary,” he joked.

Once the dice were completed and welded together at the correct angle, the three used a tractor to load the sculpture on a trailer and drove to the Decatur Square where it was hoisted into place with a crane Tuesday.

While the brothers’ projects usually feature some sort of aesthetic lighting, Daniel Hayhurst said hollow dice presented a unique medium to illuminate.

“A lot of our pieces are lit from the outside” he said, “but considering this one has holes and is see-through, we thought about having the light inside and shining out. That took quite a while, too. It was all about figuring out the best way to light it and not overdo it. We were originally going to put an LED light at the base of each dice, but we got all the lighting in and it just didn’t work.”

The answer eventually came as a pole holding a globe lamp in the center of each dice, so soft light can shine through each hole evenly. Kris Hayhurst said the lights are controlled through a bluetooth connection to a smart phone, and the color can be adjusted for special occasions.

“So like when the Eagles win, you want it to turn blue,” he said. “At Christmas you want it to turn red and green.”

With the dice welded in place and ready to be powered on, Jake Hayhurst said the team is already looking forward to their next public art project as a chance to give back to the community they call home.

“It’s neat to get back there and invest in it. That’s what I enjoy the most about it. I remember as a kid, going up on the square and it was just dead,” he said. “But I always loved it because of the history and the nostalgia of it and how cool all the buildings were.

“It kind of stunk that no one was utilizing it,” he said, “so it’s fun to be able to be a part of bringing life back to the square.”

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