UK art prof commemorates crash victims with sculpture

By Sarah Knight

When UK art professor Arturo Alonzo Sandoval began work on his sculpture, “MEMORIAL: 5191,” he remembered his encounter with two victims of the Comair Flight 5191 crash last year and worked to memorialize the generosity he experienced.

The victims, Homer and Diane Combs, were parents of one of Sandoval’s previous students, Andrea Combs, who was studying fiber arts at the time. At her senior Bachelor of Arts show, Andrea’s parents presented each of her teachers with gift certificates to show their appreciation.

“I had never received this type of gesture before from a student’s parents,” Sandoval said. “So I wanted to commemorate their kindness and all of the Comair Flight 5191 victims.”

Sandoval’s commemorative creation — a 23-foot fiber sculpture that depicts his views of life after death in memory of the 49 passengers who lost their lives in the crash — is now open to the public at the UK Art Museum.

“MEMORIAL: 5191” represents the journey made by the victims as they pass through the tunnel of light after death to become stars, Sandoval said. For artistic ideas, Sandoval said he drew from people’s stories of near-death experiences.

Inspiration for the piece came after a guest curator, Carl Solway, visited UK last year and found a main theme of survival throughout the works of the faculty members, Sandoval said.

Solway challenged him to push this theme in his own work, and Sandoval said he used local experiences to relate to the audience with his new piece featured in the UK Art Faculty Exhibition.

“His challenge to create something for that space gave me the opportunity to consider the Comair 5191 crash as a possible idea,” Sandoval said. “It was important to create an artwork that had meaning for me and relate my spiritual beliefs regarding life after death.”

The piece shows the victims spiraling out and taking the shape of the Eagle Nebula, where the Hubble telescope discovered the formation of new stars.

Ben Withers, associate professor and chair of the art department, said Sandoval is an internationally recognized artist and is the “best researcher on campus.”

“It is remarkable that a member of our faculty could use his talents to honor the victims of the crash,” he said.

Sandoval’s experimental techniques and expressive interpretations through fiber art over the past 30 years have made him one of the best-known artists on UK’s campus, said Janie Welker, curator of the UK Art Museum.

Although “MEMORIAL: 5191” is a main attraction at the exhibition, Welker said many other pieces by the faculty are featured, including one of Sandoval’s woven multimedia works.

The show began Saturday and runs through Dec. 23.