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PNW art interprets tragedy, literature, environment
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PNW art interprets tragedy, literature, environment

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WESTVILLE — A mangled steel beam from the World Trade Center and the works of celebrated international sculptors were showcased at the second annual Purdue Northwest Alumni & Friends Art Walk at the North Central Campus.

Judy Jacobi, assistant vice chancellor of university art collections and special programs, said the 18-year tradition of displaying sculpture on the North Central campus began in 1999 under the leadership of former PNC chancellor Dale Alspaugh with 10 sculptures.

A supporter of the arts, Jacobi proposed the idea to Alspaugh and recommended the sculptures be rented, as the university did not have the budget to purchase pieces.

“I had never heard of anybody doing this, but I had backed myself into a corner,” Jacobi joked.

Since then, the 270-acre campus has hosted 160 sculptures of more than 100 artists. Forty sculptures currently adorn the property, 20 of which are owned by PNW. Many have been donated by artists who have launched successful careers after getting their “start” at PNW. The rest are on loan for one to two years, Jacobi said.

“Sometimes we don’t let them go because people love them so much,” Jacobi said.

While visitors observed, sculptor Christine Perri, a former Colleges of Chicago English professor, worked on “Tales from the Woods,” a wood carving about the “primary origins of literature” once featured at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago.

Sculptor Richard Kiebdaj explained his painted steel sculpture, “A trophy,” which depicts a human with “jazz hands” on one side and a frog on the other. Inspired at first by the Bob Fosse movie, “All That Jazz,” Kiebdaj said the sculpture evolved into a piece about the decimation of frog habitat and the destruction of the environment.

“We can either pay attention, or ignore it,” said Kiebdaj, who once carved a bed headboard for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion.

Outside the Library-Student-Faculty building is “Haint + History,” a stainless steel and bronze “slave ship” by Preston Jackson that also pays homage to the Holocaust and the Irish potato famine. The haunting structure contains a floorboard from a church in the South that was once a part of the Underground Railroad.

“It is the most important piece we’ve ever had,” Jacobi said. “I hope it never leaves.”

An event highlight was a tour of the new James B. Dworkin Student Services and Activities Complex, completed in May and named for outgoing North Central chancellor Jim Dworkin. The 102,000-square-foot building contains a gymnasium, conference center, walking track, exercise rooms, locker rooms, study lounge, game rooms, and meeting rooms.

The building houses works by several renowned artists, including mixed media pieces by the celebrated Chinese contemporary artists the Zhou brothers and the panoramic shots of Chicago photographer Mel Theobald.

Jacobi said the Zhou brothers, who always “work in tandem,” came to the United States “with $30 in their pocket” and are now “world superstars” whose pieces sell for millions.

The campus is also the permanent home of a section of a steel beam recovered from the World Trade Center after its Sept. 11, 2001, collapse. The beam is displayed near the oil paintings of Jason Poteet, created in tribute to Sept. 11 victims, rescue workers and New York City residents.

Jacobi plans to incorporate several art installments at PNW’s Calumet Campus, and she hosts tours for groups upon request, including Scouting and school groups.

“I want art to be everywhere,” Jacobi said. “We aren’t graduating world-ready students if they don’t know something about art.”

Jacobi said the pieces offer a “great advantage for marketing and promoting” the campus.

“We hope the potential students who visit say, ‘I love it here ... it looks good ... something cool is going on here,’” she said.

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