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Sculpture modeled in 1968 finds home outside Kleinpell Fine Arts

November 15, 2007

A sculpture dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. that was crafted in 1968 has found a new home on campus outside of the Kleinpell Fine Arts building.

The artist of the sculpture, Doug Johnson, was the sculpting teacher on campus during the late 1960s. During this time the class of 1968 commissioned him to craft the sculpture, “Homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.”

“It was commissioned as part of Rodli Commons,” Johnson said. “They wanted some art for the new Rodli building.”

The sculpture has been in four different locations over the years. When it was first constructed it was attached to a free-standing concrete base outside of the Rodli Commons building.

“Students would walk by and tip it over,” Building and Grounds Supervisor Manville Kenney said, “It has a dent in one side.”

After being knocked over several times in its Rodli location, it was moved to a more permanent location in front of Hathorn Hall.

In the 1990s, a renovation of the sidewalk outside Hathorn Hall took place and the statue was moved into storage.

“It, at that point, became out of site out of mind,” Michael Stifter, director of campus facilities, said.

Last spring there was a renewed effort to find a new home for the statue on campus, Stifter said.

Campus officials scouted the campus to find a new location for the sculpture.

“It’s not meant to be a piece that gets a lot of direct contact,” Stifter said. “I think it’s a good passive viewing that makes a point.”

It had to be restored before it was put in its new location. The sculpture had weathered and rusted while sitting in storage, Kenney said. Johnson paid to have it sandblasted and powder coated.

“I got about twice as much into it than they paid me in the beginning,” Johnson said.

Facilities Management worked with the Art Department to relocate the sculpture outside of the Kleinpell Fine Arts building. Johnson said that the new location has sentimental value for him due to it being so close to the classroom where he taught sculpture classes.

“We had welding equipment and we would come out and drive an old wrecked car in here and make a sculpture out of it,” Johnson said. “So there often were junked cars right in this same area.”

The sculpture was originally crafted in Johnson’s art studio in the country.

“I conceived it on a potter’s wheel,” Johnson said.” then I just composed it in a small model.”

While he was working on the piece, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The event changed the meaning of the sculpture.

“Every newspaper that came had lots of his quotes,” Johnson said, “So I would cut them out of the paper and keep lots of them. Then it occurred to me ‘why not weld them onto the sculpture?'”

Johnson said that he had intended for the sculpture to rust away along with the racial tensions of the era.

“It looks pretty much now like it did when it was new,” Johnson said. “But I had intended to let it rust as if it were an old war machine when we no longer would need to be reminded because there would be no more assassinations or hate crimes. But that never happened.”