While the world watches the Winter Olympics from Russia, another international competition recently took place in Eastern Europe, bringing together the best in the world to represent their country.
The World Fire Sculpture Championship was held in Riga, Latvia in January and featured teams from 12 countries, including the United States. University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College Professor, David Hartz, was there to lead the U.S. team in building a large structure that would be placed on fire to create a work of art that lasts only a brief period of time.
Fire sculpture is an art form that is gaining in popularity in Europe. It combines art, sculpture, pyrotechnics and woodworking. At the World Championship, each of the twelve teams was given the same materials (40 kilos of straw and a lot of wood, beams ranging in size from 2×4 to 1×4) with instructions that the sculpture cannot be higher than 19.5 feet.
The U.S. team did not place among the top three, but the trip was still another great experience for Hartz, who teaches animation, photography and media design in the Electronic Media Department at UC Blue Ash. He says he enjoys the way fire sculpture touches so many of our senses. “I find it an all encompassing medium using the senses of sight, hearing, smell and motion. My experience has taught me to respect fire like a creature I’ve brought to life, choreographed to perform in specific ways and then allowed to die out.”
Hartz notes that one of the requirements for being a member of the U.S. Fire Sculpture team is that you need to have a degree in fine art. Hartz has his Master of Fine Arts from Ohio State University and has taught in the Electronic Media program at UC Blue Ash for 12 years.
Hartz began experimenting with fire sculpture when he was a boy scout. He would build small structures with sticks and leaves and set them on fire, but he emphasizes that he was always extremely careful to use the principles he learned as a scout to make safety the first priority.
“I have received consultation from fire departments and talked to them about what I do. Above everything else, I want to make sure that safety comes first when developing any fire sculpture,” said Hartz. “I have seen people burned attempting to work with fire, I do not recommend that anyone try this without proper training.”
He earned his pyrotechnics license in Canada and began competing in fire sculpture competitions about 15 years ago. He won first place in the Pacific Northwest Fire Sculpture Championship in 2000 and represented the U.S. in the first World Fire Sculpture Championship, held in Estonia in 2011. Hartz has also created fire logos for events and organizations, including Fox TV.
If you’d like to see more of the the World Fire Sculpture Championship, visit this photo gallery from the official Riga2014.org website.