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Posted by on Feb 5, 2013 in Public Art |

Vega Metals, Water Droplets

Vega Metals, Water Droplets

Francis Vega and Neal Carlton established Vega Metals in Durham in 1987. It is a full-time collaborative team of artist-blacksmiths who specialize in creating art furnishings and railings, site-specific sculpture, and architectural ornamentation. Winners of numerous industry awards, the company’s forged and welded gates, fences, sculptures and architectural metal work can be seen at Duke University, the Liberty Arts Pavilion in Durham, and in many corporate settings and private residences.

Vega Metals created Water Droplets for the Buffaloe Road Aquatics Center. The Center was selected by the Raleigh Arts Commission’s Public Art and Design Board (PADB) for its inaugural Half-Percent for Art project in 2010. Over the course of the next two years, the artists worked closely with the project team to design artwork that would allow visitors to reflect on the natural beauty of Buffaloe Road Athletic Park, recognize the creative spirit of the architecture, and engage visitors at the swimming facility.

The completed artwork consists of three sets of painted aluminum panels, each spanning 15 feet wide by 10 feet high. The panels depict water droplets and their resulting concentric tidal circles that appear to ripple, emphasized via backlighting.


Vega Metals Website


Q-Art Code Film: WATER-DROPLETS Produced, Filmed and Edited by Bert French Nov-Dec / 2012 TRT: 4:00 min


[Kim Curry-Evans] Water Droplets was the very first public art piece that was created under the city of Raleigh’s half-percent for art program. The first project was at the Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center. It was selected by the Raleigh Arts Commission public art and design board, and they selected the artists Vega Metals who are in Durham. And that was Neal Carlton and Francis Vega to create this beautiful first public art piece for Raleigh.

[Francis Vega] Vega Metals is where Neal and I started back in 1987. It became something that was a passion for us that we love doing. I think Neal needs a double pat on the back – this is something that came from his heart, his vision, that he had this vision that came to him in the middle of the night.

[Neal Carlton] I’ve never had it happen before or since but I went to sleep one night and it woke me up in the middle of the night. (Sound of swimmer underwater paddling by) I realized the essence of water, the droplet, we’re all made up of it, it’s life itself, water. The pool, the aquatic center, is about community and about family, so in essence that is the ripples of our life. (Sounds of public pool ambiance: kids playing, water splashing, etc.) Those are the things that affect us. So that is where it originated, and you know it developed and Francis had a wonderful idea of putting light behind this thing, creating a shadow box.

[Francis] Those rings were dark and as soon as we allowed light to come in from behind it brought life to it. I mean light is part of life.

(Sound of bubbles underwater and swimmer kicking and moving by)

[Francis] The cutting was done all with water. We are fortunate to have what is called a water-jet cutting machine. (Sound of water-jet machine) It’s 55,000 PSI coming through a little hole the diameter of your hair, and that’s what was used to cut out all of the aluminum.

(Sound of electric grinder tool in workshop)

[Francis] It really pops out, the grind that’s on here is a technique of painting on metal without paint.

[Neal] It creates these swirl patterns and then on top of the swirl patterns is a translucent paint. (Sound of worker spraying a metal object with paint) That is put on very lightly and so you can actually see the grinding beneath of the paint.

[Francis] The grind really makes the piece three-dimensional, along with the rings that give you that three-dimension.

(Sound of public pool ambiance: boy sliding down the giant slide, water spray and splash, kids playing around)

[Francis] All of this has to be able to work within this environment of the pool, with chlorine and all those things that eat away a metal, paint and all of that. So, it has some very, very durable finishes.

(Sound of swimmer swimming along top of water)

[Francis] We feel very much accomplished by the piece. It comes from a vision, something that you feel needs to be, and that is exactly what happened to Neal. He had the vision.

[Neal] Usually it’s in the shower or while driving.

(Both Neal and Francis erupt in laughter)

[Francis] It comes at different times, in different places, it really does.



Special thanks to: Neal Carlton Francis Vega Kim Curry-Evans Meredith Laxton Buffaloe Road Aquatic Ctr.

Additional images provided by: Vega Metals Raleigh Arts Commission