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Lee Kelly sculpture to grace Willamette University campus

by Tom Morlan,

Two small photos of the sculpture of two columns with a cross beam; photo of sculpture being hoisted by a crane

The piece, which SAIF donated to the university in 2017, will be installed just northeast of the Art Building next month.

Thanks to a donation by SAIF Corporation and the vision of Willamette University arts supporters, a 15-foot-tall sculpture by renowned artist Lee Kelly — often referred to as “Oregon’s sculptor” — is scheduled to be installed near the Art Building in late February.

“This brings a major piece of outdoor sculpture to campus by one of Oregon's most important and distinguished sculptors,” said John Olbrantz, Maribeth Collins director of the Hallie Ford Museum of Art. “It's among the first steps in creating an outdoor collection of Pacific Northwest sculpture on Willamette's campus, an idea that we've been talking about for years.”

The untitled piece, which was fashioned from COR-TEN steel in 1974, occupied a prominent space on SAIF’s Salem campus for more than four decades. But as SAIF prepared for a campus renovation project in 2016, it didn’t include the sculpture in the new hardscape and landscape plan.

SAIF reached out to Jim Bauer — former vice president for planning, facilities and external affairs at Willamette — to see if the university would be interested in the sculpture. Bauer immediately contacted Olbrantz, who enthusiastically recommended the acquisition.

“I said we needed to jump on it,” Olbrantz recalled. “It's an iconic example of Lee's sculpture, and we both agreed that it would be an excellent addition to the campus sculpture collection.”

The Hallie Ford Museum of Art paid to have the sculpture removed from the SAIF campus in 2017. While it was in storage, a committee began exploring potential sites for the piece. The team included Shelby Radcliffe, vice president for advancement; Roger Hull, professor of art history emeritus; and Mark Mazurier, assistant director of projects.

The group considered several locations before settling on a spot just northeast of the Art Building.

“Since the piece is of monumental scale with an opening at center, it occurred to us that it is a kind of gateway piece, a portal or doorway in abstract terms,” Hull said. “We wanted to place it near a walkway somewhere on the edge of campus. We decided that a large piece by a major Oregon sculptor would be appropriate near the Art Building, in a spot that also leads to and from the Hallie Ford Museum and can be seen by drivers traveling east on State Street.”

blueprint showing the future location of the sculpture
Lee Kelly's untitled sculpture will be installed between the Art Building and State Street in February.

Kelly's sculptures are a fixture in cities throughout Oregon and Washington. One example stands in front of the Pacific Northwest College of Art, which will formally merge with Willamette University later this year.

“There will be a nice congruence between that sculpture and the one on the Willamette campus,” Hull said. “It will provide an aesthetic link, you might say, between the linked institutions.”

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