Since 1948, Southeast Missouri State University’s alma mater has celebrated the institution as a “beacon light for all below.” Fast forward 69 years, and “Commence,” a stainless-steel work of art, is conveying that message in a new light.
It represents “a gateway to the University and the City of Cape Girardeau,” said Chris Wubbena, Southeast professor of art and sculpture area head, in describing the sculpture installed today at the roundabout on South Fountain Street near Southeast’s River Campus.
The two-piece shiny-surfaced sculpture forms a portal, with the inside appearing eroded, “showing that many things have passed through it,” he said. The 14-foot-tall piece, which represents one of many “gateways to one’s life,” welcomes students and visitors near the entrance to Southeast’s River Campus.
How to enhance the appearance of the Fountain Street roundabout had been discussed over a period of years, Wubbena said, describing the initial concept for a sculpture. Early on, the City of Cape Girardeau considered an international call for proposals, but the size of a sculpture needed to command that space made the project cost prohibitive. That’s when the city asked the University to partner with it on a student-produced artwork, and “Commence” was born.
Wubbena designed the sculpture, hashing out logistics for the piece over the past year and half. Southeast art students then began working in earnest in mid-May in the Serena metal shop, fabricating the work, cutting, grinding and welding metal to form the two bookend pieces that make up the sculpture, each of which are about nine feet wide.
“They already knew how to do it,” Wubbena said of his students. “They just learned how to do it on a larger scale.”
The sculpture has a brushed exterior, with the inside appearing to be more geologic in nature. Wubbena said the outer bronze look is the result of heat coloring done about a month ago at 930 degrees in a furnace at Wubbena’s alma mater, the University of Northern Iowa. Final work has taken place at Erlbacher Gear & Machine Works on Good Hope Street which had the facilities to stand up the piece using an overhead hoist.
The project came full circle once the pieces were assembled at Erlbacher’s, he said.
“When we finally got the top part on, it became larger than life and off the page,” Wubbena said. “It felt like everything I wanted it to be. It is really a spectacular piece. The visual is really interesting, but it is all that has gone into it that is really meaningful.
“From the very beginning, maybe my proudest moment was showing the students how to do everything – how to strap, how to cut,” Wubbena said. “At the end, I didn’t have to show them anything. They took control. As a professor, that’s a huge moment of pride. At the very end I said, ‘see what you guys did?’ They really did make this piece.”
A City of Cape Girardeau crew transported the sculpture this morning to the roundabout, where it was lifted onto bolts and fitted into concrete footings holding it in place. The project provided multiple experiential learning opportunities for several Southeast students, including Terry Davis of Jackson, Missouri; Jessica Lambert of Columbia, Missouri; Vatchae Sams of St. Charles, Missouri; Deanna Hoffman, Ashley Sexton and Julie Aufdenberg, all of Cape Girardeau; Brigit Ciskowski of St. Peters, Missouri; Brianna Voelker of Waterloo, Illinois; Walter Hale of Springfield, Illinois; Kaeley Price of Thebes, Illinois; and Kyle Bailey of St. Louis, Missouri.
The entire process was documented by Department of Mass Media students who videotaped the art students’ handiwork from start to finish. Dr. Jim Dufek, Southeast professor of mass media who has guided the filming, says the piece will be edited into a River Tales show, used for marketing and recruitment efforts in the Department of Mass Media, and webcast and broadcast as a student-produced feature story this fall.
Wubbena, who is a member of the City of Cape Girardeau’s Public Art Committee, said he is looking forward to the grand appearance the sculpture will make during the upcoming Aug. 21 total solar eclipse on the first day of the fall semester at Southeast.
“It will be interesting to see this thing glowing when night becomes day” at the conclusion of the eclipse, he said.
The sculpture will be officially dedicated during the fall semester once the school year begins.
“It’s very exciting,” Wubbena said. “I’ve been working in public art for 20 years. Public art really is interesting. People can see it every day. It is really exciting to know you are going to have a lot of viewers” of your work for many years to come.