Helaman Ferguson: Mormon Sculptor
Helaman Rolfe Pratt Ferguson is a mathematical sculptor and a digital artist. He is also well known for his development of the PSLQ algorithm, an integer relation detection algorithm.
He was born in Salt Lake City in 1940 and raised by adoptive parents in upstate New York. His adoptive father was a carpenter and stonemason from Ireland and taught Ferguson to work with his hands. His biological mother was killed by lightning when he was three years old and his biological father was drafted into the World War II Pacific theater.
Ferguson earned his A.B. degree in Liberal Arts from Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, and his PhD in Mathematics from the University of Washington in Seattle.
One of the first bronze torii he sculpted was exhibited at a computer art exhibition in 1989 at the Computer Museum in Boston. He often represents mathematical shapes in his works. His most widely known piece of art is a 27-inch (69 centimeters) bronze sculpture, Umbilic Torus. In 2010, the Simons Foundation, a private institution committed to the advancement of science and mathematics, commissioned him to create the Umbilic Torus SC, a massive 8.5 meter-high cast bronze and granite sculpture weighing more than nine tons. It was donated to Stony Brook University and installed in 2012 outside the math and physics buildings. It is mounted on a stainless steel column and has a 7.7 meter diameter as the granite base, where various mathematical formulas defining the torus are inscribed. To create it, Ferguson wrote a program consisting of 25,000 movements to control a 16-by-20 robot arm and its affixed foot-long industrial diamond-encrusted cutting tool
In January 2014, Ferguson and his wife, Claire, delivered an MAA Invited Address, titled “Mathematics in Stone and Bronze,” at the Joint Math Meetings in Baltimore Maryland.
Ferguson and Claire lived in Utah, where he taught math and she studied art at Brigham Young University. They raised their seven children while he was a tenured professor for seventeen years at BYU. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.