A Tribute To Poco

When I was in architecture school at the University of Kansas, I was intrigued by a large room on the lower level of Marvin Hall, the home of the School of Architecture.  It was a large room lined with sculptural objects, power tools and tables in the middle, with some open space to one side.  I had heard that it was the studio of a renowned sculptor that was on the faculty of the art school.  His name was Bernard "Poco" Frazier.  I found out that in addition to teaching primarily at the art school, he also offered an architectural sculpture course.  I signed on and took the course.  Poco was an elderly man, but more full of life than most of the students.  He was great fun to converse with, had lots of good stories to tell, and seemed to draw energy from working with his students.  I learned more about architecture from this sculptor than I did from my architecture professors.

After completing the first course I asked Poco if he would sponsor me in taking a second semester of the course, an Architectural Sculpture II course.  He agreed.  As my thesis project, I had come up with what I thought was a really interesting idea for a sculpture.  I shared the idea with Poco and he encouraged me to pursue it.  I built a maquette of the sculpture and worked out the details for the wood planks and steel rods that I would need to complete it.

Poco came to me one day and said that he had run across someone who had a large cedar log that they wanted to get rid of.  Poco suggested that we could use his truck with a boom on it to load and take the log to a nearby sawmill to have it sawed into planks of the width I needed for my sculpture.

I remember well the day we went to the sawmill.  It was a blustery day in early May and it was snowing lightly, an unusual occurrence in Kansas for that time of year.  After a few passes through the saw, I was enjoying not only seeing the planks I would need being fabricated right before my eyes, but also the sight of the large whirling blade, the sounds and smells of the wood being sawn, the easy conversation occurring between the older men, when suddenly I hear a "chunk" sound from the saw, and the operator exclaims "Damn!" and shuts off the saw.  He looks at the log where the saw had just passed through and reaches for a nearby axe.  To my horror he raises the axe and with two deft blows cuts out a chunk of the wood.  He picks up the offending piece of wood and shows it to Poco and me.  There was a large nail that had been driven into the tree at some point in the past.  Perhaps it had fastened a clothesline or part of a fence.  But at this point I didn't care what it was doing there, by cutting it out, suddenly my sculpture was ruined. Instead of the clean lines of the sculpture I had envisioned, there was going to be one plank with a big notch taken out of it. I was very upset and it must have shown, because Poco glanced over at me and laughed. He said, "This is the difference between art students and architecture students.  If you were an art student and this had happened, you wouldn't have thought much about it, but being an architecture student you think everything must be just right.  Everything must be perfect.  Think about it Randall.  The world's not perfect.  Things don't go as planned. The sooner you learn to take things in stride, the sooner you will become a better architect.  Because of this perceived disaster, you will remember this day and hopefully you will remember how today's events taught you something.  Now your sculpture will have a story to relate when people see it and if they ask "why is there a chunk out of that one plank?".  It will make your sculpture a richer and more rewarding effort."  At the time, I wasn't so sure about this.  But I completed the sculpture and was pleased with the results (I got an A).

After graduating from architecture school and renovating several houses over the years with my wife, when something unexpected occurs that forces us to change our expectations, we will invariably look at each other, and one of us will say...  "Oh well, it tells a story".  Things can get interesting when they go wrong, if they have a story attached to them.  Sometimes they can change from being bad, to being good.  When we were renovating our master bathroom, we hired a demolition contractor to remove portions of the tile walls and floor, which had been set in sand & cement.  The exterior wall had an existing marble countertop running the length of the wall beneath a pair of windows.  There was a cabinet on each end and a space in the middle where there had been a radiator.  We had removed the radiator and planned to infill the opening beneath the counter with a cabinet to match the ones on either side.  One day I got a call from my wife.  "You won't believe what has happened!  One of the demo guys has broken out a chunk of the marble countertop!"  When I got home I had a look and was upset by what I saw.  Replacement of the stone countertop was going to be virtually impossible without removing wall tile that could not be easily replaced.

After brooding on the situation for a few days, I remembered Poco's words from years ago and came up with a solution.  When you've got lemons, make lemonade.  I changed the design by turning what would have been a cabinet into a make-up area.  I first hired a stone craftsman to cut out a portion of the original countertop that contained the damage.  Then I had a new piece of matching stone installed a few inches below. 

The result was the award-winning feature you see here that was photographed by Better Homes and Gardens and featured in several of their publications over the years.  I had taken Poco's words to heart and the result was probably better that if the damage had not occurred.

I've thought about that day with Poco years ago and realized that what he had taught me was applicable not only to my sculpture but also to architecture and perhaps even life itself.  Poco died in 1976, the year after I graduated from architecture school, but I will always remember him and the wisdom that he conveyed to me that day.