By Leo Proechel, Staff Writer
If you’ve walked by Devries Gym recently, you have probably noticed a sculpture of a bronze owl flying through a ring. This sculpture has caused some students to admire its beauty and detailed design. For example, first-year Ahdonnica Patterson said “I think it’s nice piece of art and it represents the basketball team and sports teams in general pretty well.”
However, it has left others, like Zak Kane, with questions like “Why is it flying through the ring? Is it a trained owl? Is it a performing owl? Is it a pun on the Hunger Games emblem?”
Some may have also wondered whether school funds were used in its creation, considering the fact that Warren Wilson is currently in the midst of a potential financial crisis. Don Harris, a Warren Wilson consultant who was largely involved in the installation of the owl, assured students in an interview on Monday, January 27th, that no school funds were used in the process and that any resemblance to the Hunger Games mockingjay pin is purely coincidental–although he is a fan of the series, and can understand the popular misconception.
The proposal to build a Warren Wilson mascot sculpture was made over two years ago by Irwin Belk, while President Pfeiffer was still in office. For those who do not recognize the name, Mr. Belk is a distinguished state symbol. His list of titles include President of the American Cancer Society Foundation, member of the United States Olympic Committee, decorated veteran of World War II, and frequent donor to numerous college athletic and other facilities, primarily in North and South Carolina. His family established the Belk Department Store chain, and in 1999 President Clinton appointed him as United States Delegate to the 54th United Nations General Assembly. He has a close affiliation with Warren Wilson College, having several family members who served or are planning to serve on its Board of Trustees and having previously made a large endowment to the college in 1996.
Mr. Belk has donated bronze mascot sculptures to colleges across the country. For each of these sculptures, he has a consistent criteria: it must be the biggest of its kind in the world. So, when he came to Warren Wilson, he proposed an installation of the largest bronze owl. The college’s administration had a problem with this idea, as they felt that a 50-foot owl didn’t fit with the the small campus or with the school’s philosophy. Eventually, they agreed that the sculpture would have the longest wingspan of any bronze owl in the world.
The owl’s sculptor, Jon Hair, was an obvious choice, having built most of Mr. Belk’s sculpture donations, including the 14′ bronze lion at Queen’s University and a lifesize sculpture of Mahatma Gandhi at High Point University. Besides sculpting, Hair has worked in the music industry and once played guitar with Jimi Hendrix.
After preliminary design discussions, miniature clay models, and photoshopped images of the anticipated end product, those involved decided on the owl in flight through a hoop. The purpose of the hoop was primarily to allow for viewers to witness the underbelly and legs of the owl, which would be covered had the owl been placed on a pillar. Mr. Hair created the original model with clay and then, through something called the “lost wax process,“ created a mold, filled it with wax, and finally replaced the wax with bronze. Warren Wilson considered casting the statue in its own 3-D art studio, but this was deemed an impractical task, considering the size of the college’s facilities. After moving the statue to the campus from California, the owl was stored on the Fortune property near the Village dorms until it could be erected in front of Devries.
In the spirit of Warren Wilson, almost the entire installation process was carried out by students. Prominent student contributors include Alumna Kat Laufenberg, who did photoshop work for the original presentation, and Senior Tish Mead, who is in charge of the stone masonry that will cover the base.
As the project nears its end, the college is making plans to hold a dedication ceremony in April. Warren Wilson will recognize the financial contributors, including Irwin Belk, as well as Mr. and Ms. Jim Daniels, who funded the base. The sculpture will be dedicated to Irwin Belk’s wife, Carol. It is uncertain whether 92-year-old Mr. Belk will be able to attend the ceremony, due to poor health.
“I am very happy with the detail,” said Don Harris, “I think it’s a very appropriate spot for being the mascot of the college. I can see photographs of sports teams being taken in front of the fighting owl sculpture. Who knows what kind of traditions will start–maybe they’ll go out and pet its head before a game.” He also added, jokingly, “It’s gonna make every chipmunk for half a mile scared.”