Professor Emeritus Undertakes Labeling Project for Campus Art
September 11, 2013
MACOMB, IL - Western Illinois University Professor Emeritus Gil Belles is undertaking a project to have labels affixed to all campus public art, giving credit to the artists who created them.
Belles is teaching a class in the Learning Is Forever (LIFE) program that shows and explains much of the public art at Western. The two-weekend class showcases numerous indoor and outdoor pieces to a group of about 15 people.
While preparing for this class, Belles said he learned that many of the pieces of public art weren't labeled or dated. One particular artwork between Tillman and Seal halls, titled, "Commemoration 75," was created in 1974-75 by retired art Professor George Potter and eight of his students.
Belles learned that a plaque, recognizing the professor and the students, was made for the piece, but was never permanently added. After a few telephone calls by Belles, the plaque was placed on the work recently.
Potter believed he was coming to campus during the LIFE class to talk about his work, but Belles surprised him with the plaque addition, as well.
"I am so grateful for Gil's efforts to add the label and to get credit for the students involved," said Potter, who taught at Western from 1968-1999.
The students who took part in the project included 1970s art department alums Charolette Meister, Pat Pfeiffer, Mike Cottingham, Van "Eric" Cochran, Ron Gard, Chris Cornell, Gary Scott and Brian Swanson.
The welded steel artwork was created over two semesters, thanks to a donation of Cor-Ten steel frm U.S. Steel in Chicago, which donated 6,500 pounds of steel to Western for the project. Potter said he used the type of steel because of the way it weathers into a reddish sienna color.
"I wanted a piece that had space and a sense of lift and soaring," Potter said. "I am still amazed we were able to get the piece together that well, considering the weight of the materials. We used an acetylene torch and an arc-welder and older methods like that and the pieces of steel were one-quarter to three-eights of an inch thick."
The piece was made to commemorate WIU's 75th anniversary, and Potter said the three large pieces of steel represent three-quarters of a century.
Labeling pieces of McDonough County history is not new for Belles. He is wrapping up a personal goal of planting signs at each of the county's 97 cemeteries. He also hopes to get labels for other pieces on campus, such as a 1965 mural by former art faculty member and artist Eric Bransby in Sallee Hall.
For more information about LIFE classes, visit wiu.edu/life.