People who do decorative concrete work come from all walks of life. That’s one reason why this segment of the concrete world keeps reinventing itself—exploring the use of new materials that take decorative concrete in new directions. It’s the result of people with creative minds and those experienced in other industries that continually come up with fresh outside-the-box ideas.
Earl Senchuk, Marquette, Mich., is one of these people—an artist and inventor with more than 40 years of experience. Throughout his career, he has applied his talents over a wide landscape. For example, he recently collaborated with Mike Rucinski to invent a rip current sensor-and-warning system, which detects the presence of a rip current within 10 seconds and sounds an alarm to warn swimmers to get out of the water. He was inspired to do this because of the many people who have drowned as the result of rip currents in Lake Superior near his home.
Known for his diversity, Senchuk is a self-taught multimedia artist who, for the past 25 years, has won a number of art awards. His art mediums include various clays, welded metals, watercolor, wire, fiber, concrete, and living foliage. His works are on display in various locations around the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
When a person called Senchuk with the request to build a 54-inch-diameter yellow rose fountain, he said yes without knowing exactly how to do it. Because of the fragile nature of the flower, he decided to construct it with concrete and began a search for an overlay cement mix that would perform in the way he needed. After trying several products, he settled on Planitop X made by Mapei, Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Floral Fountain for Stephenson
For the project, the owner wanted the rose to look like it was floating on water. “That became the start of a memorable four-month long journey,” says Senchuk. He consulted several books about roses, learning that rose petals grow in a spiral shape with petals overlapping very close to each other. However, he couldn’t find anything that told him how to make flowers out of concrete. He finally decided to make each petal separately in order to capture all the detail and make them look real—thus each petal became an individual sculpture. In addition, this decision made it easier to transport the petals safely to their final destination.
To begin, Senchuk bent, shaped, and welded steel rods to make an armature for each rose petal and leaf. For the space inside each petal, he wired one layer of diamond lath, knowing he would have to apply overlay cement on each side of the lath to create the finished shape. He also designed a special base to anchor each petal and hold them in the right position.
The pot life of the overlay material is about six minutes, so he had to work fast. Mixing one 12-pound batch at a time, Senchuk, with help from another worker, applied the fairly loose and grainy material onto a piece of cheese cloth adhered to the bottom side of the lath. Each petal required several applications of overlay cement to create the desired thickness and shape. He used a sponge to apply the last smoothing lifts followed with wire brushing.
The bright yellow and green color of the flower was achieved with applications of colored marine epoxy.
Artistry at the World of Concrete
In the Marquette area, Senchuk also is known for his very authentic looking concrete trees. He incorporates an irrigation tube system that transports water up through the trunk and branches to locations where living flowers and other plants can grow or attach, adding new dimension to the appearance of concrete trees.
This year, Senchuk has agreed to be one of the presenters at the Artistry in Decorative Concrete demonstrations held at World of Concrete (WOC). He will demonstrate how he builds trees that support plant life. When you come to WOC, make sure to visit the outside Artistry area and share your ideas with him.