Accelerator VII

Remember this from last week?

This was discovered yesterday inside the ceiling of an art department room in the first Sewall basement. It’s a piece of art, intricate and exquisitely constructed. Covered with dust, it had clearly been in the ceiling for quite a long time. If you have any idea who made it, where it came from or why it was in the ceiling I would love to hear from you.

Mystery 2

Well, I didn’t hear from anyone but with the help of a bunch of people, I believe we have found the answer. Here’s an article from a March 1970 Thresher that I think explains what the piece is and who made it:


Al Cheney taught at Rice from 1969 until 1975 in what was initially called the Department of Fine Arts. Cheney, hired to teach “New Media,” set up the department shop and served as its supervisor in addition to teaching. He was apparently a popular instructor as well as a congenial colleague and an active, creative artist whose work aimed at a synthesis of art, engineering and technology. The “Accelerator VII” described in the article is surely what was found in the Sewall ceiling. Why was it in the ceiling? My best bet is that Cheney, by reputation an accomplished practitioner of the dark art of stashing things in overlooked hidey-holes around campus, tucked it up there intending to retrieve it fairly quickly, then left Rice and forgot about it. He died in 2007 so we’ll never really know.

I’m also fascinated by the article as a whole, which made me realize that the early history of the visual arts at Rice is something I’ve never really delved into. Coincidentally, earlier in the week I came across plans for Allen Center that show the layout of the department when it was temporarily housed there. I also discovered that we have the papers of John O’Neill, the first chairman. So off I go . . .

Also, can anyone tell me about the provocatively named Red Garter?

Bonus: Speaking of puddles, an alert reader sends this image of the stadium parking lot after Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Hurricane Ike Rice Stadium 2008

It reminds me of this, not too far from the same spot in 1912:

April1912Flood(kids in water)

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12 Responses to Accelerator VII

  1. “Led by their instructor Art Cheney, Rice students will display recent adventures in light, plexiglass, and live turtles.” Also, the Art Barn was brand new and still being called the Art Barn before it turned into the Rice Museum and later the (soon to be “old”) Continuing Studies Building.

  2. I’m rather surprised that Sandy Havens hasn’t come by to tell us about Art Cheney. You’d think he would have known him.

  3. Joe Battle says:

    I’m very pleased to find this resource about some of the work of my teacher Al Cheney.
    Al was a ground breaking sculptor in the field of Art and Technology. He was a perfect fit for the science and research based curriculum offered at Rice during that period.
    I was a student in the Art Dept. at UH when I first discover one of Al’s crossover sculptures in the foyer of Sewall Hall on a visit to Rice. The sculpture was titled “The Internal Combustion Organ.” I immediately did what it took to study with Al at Rice, because I’d never seen anything like the work he was doing and I understood its significance.
    It was a grand, visually striking, combination of automotive engineering and artistic vision. Simply put, it was a Chevy V8 engine mounted on a chrome plated stand with a classic Harley leather seat attached on the back side. A viewer could sit up next to the engine and play a finely crafted rosewood keyboard. The keyboard triggered six notes which were driven by the exhaust pressure of the active engine. These notes echoed out of large chrome pipes which pointed upwards attached to the engine manifold.
    Picture, if you will, a “Phantom of the Opera” style organ assembly pushed into the Age of technology. This was Al’s strength as a creative individual, his ability to blend Art and Technology in innovative and narrative fashion. The results were always striking and exquisitely crafted sculptures, which were both a comment on the blending of humanity with technology and pivotal pieces in the history of this now dynamic direction in the arts.
    I have two original full color photo silk screens of the “Visual Accelerator” done by Al in the lab at Rice, during his tenure there. One is an artist proof, the other the beginning of a numbered sequence. To inform students of the history of the Arts at Rice, if there is an interest, I might be persuaded to donate them to the University’s permanent collection.
    Joe Battle

  4. Joe Battle says:

    As a follow up, have you plugged the “Accelerator IV” in via its powerstat controller? If not be prepared for a significant visual event.
    Cheers, Joe

  5. Lindann Cheney says:

    Hi there. I am Al’s widow. Love hearing about his work. Thanks for any information you have about the whereabouts of his work. Yes, the piece you showed above was made by Alan. He had it in his Masters show at San Jose State University. The organ was sold to the Contemporary ArT Museum in Houston and the money was used for a down payment on our first home.

  6. Lindann Cheney says:

    Dave Parsens bought a piece from Alan called “The Walking Tree”. Any idea where this might be?

  7. Joe Battle says:

    Mrs Cheney.
    I’m pleased to find your presence in this thread. Your husband was the most significant artist and mentor in my early years as an art student. He was a generation ahead of his time in regards the blending of art and technology. My current sculptural production of “Intelligent Environments” are directly linked to Al’s inspirational trailblazing in this field.
    (“The Sentient Gate Project,”!sentient-gate/ck0q )

    Best regards, Joe Battle

    • Lindann Cheney says:

      Thanks so much Joe. You are right. His mind and creativity certainly did not fit into a box!

      • Mrs Cheney,
        Thanks for replying.
        Additionally, Al did a larger version of the “Visual Accelerator” for Chip Lord and Doug Michels architectural group called “The Ant Farm”. Al’s large installation, of double spinning florescent lights, was mounted high above the ground on a concert style scaffolding. The effect against the night sky was dramatic and extraordinary.
        The “Visual Accelerator” series explored the nature of light and wave mechanics in a stunning and insightful way. An added feature to the spinning sculpture was the sound it made even when the lights were not on. In fact, during an instillation at the Blaffer Gallery, Al commented to me that he most enjoyed one student who remained in the exhibit cubical simply listening to the “accelerators” dramatic sound variations, not realizing that it also lite up.

        Best Regards, Joe Battle

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