USAO Names Public Art Project Winner ‘Flight’ Captures Oklahoma Nature, Culture in Bronze

Wednesday, May 3, 2006


CHICKASHA -- International artist Archie Held synthesizes Oklahoma’s natural fauna and native culture in a new sculpture to be unveiled this fall at the University of Science and Arts.


Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college has teamed up with the new Office of Oklahoma Art in Public Places to bring new art to the state. After a search that produced submissions from 82 artists around the world, USAO announces Archie Held as the winner.

Held already has begun work on the large bird-like sculpture at his studio in Richmond, Calif. This fall, the sculpture is scheduled to be erected in the Alumni Walk of Fame in front of the USAO Nash Library.


Titled “Flight,” this piece is inspired by Oklahoma’s state bird, the wide-open possibilities of life after college and the artwork of Native American artist Acee Blue Eagle, who painted murals in 1935 on the walls of the original gymnasium building on campus.

“The long grass strip in front of Nash Library … seemed to be a great ‘launching’ space for a work of art,” said Held.


“The first of my three sons is in college and I am very excited about the possibilities he has to take wing and make his contribution in the world. So that’s what stuck with me from the beginning, this sense of flight and as I tried to give it a form I began drawing wings.”


After a personal visit to USAO, Held began sculpting dozens of different wing images. “It reminded me of my love for making airplane models as a boy,” he said. “Those airplanes had a curving keel-like shape that kept them suspended.”

However, Held wasn’t happy using supports to hold up the wings. Once he began researching Oklahoma’s natural birds, he found his answer.


“It was when I was looking at the birds of Oklahoma that I found what I was looking for in the tail feathers of the scissor-tailed flycatcher,” he said. In addition, Held was influenced by native elements in Blue Eagle’s artwork such as feathers and a keel-shaped basket drawn by a horse. The shape is similar to that of the flycatcher’s tail.


But this is no little bird. With a wingspan of 14 feet and a length of 16 feet, this bronze bird lifts six feet off the ground, leaving enough room for a person to eat lunch underneath it.


Artist-educator Cecil Lee, Regents Professor of Art and director of the USAO Art Gallery, said the sculpture will add a new focus to the landscape of the college. “When the work is fully realized, I think it will be very powerful,” he said. “It has a stark simplicity that will become … a central image to the new campus.”


The image, he said, is something viewers are sure to enjoy. “This is not a departure from being avant-garde,” he said. “I think it’s a lot like Chopin’s ‘C Minor Prelude’ – you can’t find fault with it, and people love it the first time they hear it.”


A short video featuring renderings and illustrations of “Flight” is available online at /news/flight.htm


USAO Leads Oklahoma’s Public Art Program


Commissioning a sculpture of its size is not only a first for USAO; it is the first time any educational institution in Oklahoma has collaborated with the newly formed Office of Oklahoma Art in Public Places to create publicly displayed art.


Created by the Legislature in 2004, the act eventually will require that public entities use 1.5 percent of bond funds designated for capital projects toward public art. As part of its $6 million in campus capital projects underway – funded by the 2004 statewide bond issue that sends $475 million to Oklahoma colleges -- USAO took the lead and will create public art before the law actually requires it. A portion of this money will pay for the $60,000 Nash Library Public Art Project.


USAO President John Feaver said Held’s unique “Flight” concept will connect with a larger audience than the university alone. “This project reflects the mission of the Oklahoma Art in Public Places program to use the arts to reflect the state’s unique history, spirit and diversity and to imbue the state with a vibrant sense of place,” he said.


“The project also enhances USAO’s mission as the state’s public liberal arts college in providing the public a thorough education preparing and enriching students for meaningful, purposeful lives,” he said. “Further, I view it in the larger context as a component in Chickasha’s economic development plan for enriching the environment with public art.”


Lee agreed. “I think it will fit in rural Oklahoma, however I think it will be seen as first-rate,” Lee said. “I haven’t seen much in Oklahoma that compares. We are the first educational institution in the state to do this; we’re breaking ground with a new kind of imagery.”


The initial project committee met in July 2005 to determine the scope of such an artistic endeavor. Debby Williams, director of the Oklahoma Art in Public Places Program, and Betty Price, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council, served on selection teams as advisors alongside USAO staff and faculty members.


In August, USAO sent a “Request for Artist Qualifications” to state and national public art entities; 82 artists representing four countries and 28 states submitted their resumes and images of their artwork for the project.


The public art project teams reviewed the artists’ qualifications in November and selected 10 semifinalists. Another committee of similar individuals narrowed the selection to three artists who visited the USAO campus in February 2006 and presented their sculpture proposals to the campus community.


Today USAO and the Office of Art in Public Places announce the winner: California artist Archie Held, whose work appears in public and private collections around the world.


Construction and site preparation is scheduled to begin immediately. In addition to relocating the large, freestanding clock in the walkway, workers will frame the sculpture with a short wall that appears to lift a large rectangle of the library lawn up from the ground. Additional lighting will be mounted once the sculpture is in place. In all, the project should be completed before the start of the fall term.


Held’s Artwork Displayed Internationally


Lee praised Held’s selection of Oklahoma images and themes for this sculpture, despite his international reputation for abstract work. “His imagery clearly is derived from the Oklahoma scene,” Lee said. “It is natural and organic in concept while being modern and ethereal in execution.”


Held holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in sculpture from UCLA and has 26 years of professional experience. His works are in collections from California to Canada and from Germany to Japan. The artist works primarily with bronze and stainless steel for his public art projects. “Flight” is Held’s first public art project in Oklahoma.


His philosophy of public art is one of inclusion: “Through the simplicity and elegance of my sculptural designs, I strive to enhance and complement the environs and the architecture while making a dynamic statement that will draw people to the location and reward them with a visual experience,” he said.


As the director of Nash Library, Kelly Brown said Held’s choice of bird imagery personally affected her. “I think the idea of soaring or taking flight befits the grander purpose of libraries,” she said. “We are not just a storehouse of books: we make accessible the bold ideas that allow humanity to achieve great heights.”