Art professor invites freshmen to help with commissioned piece

By Jake Fain
Staff Writer

One of the rarest opportunities for college art majors is the chance to take part in the production of an actual commissioned piece.

Lee Benson, professor of art and department chairman, is providing that opportunity to five freshmen.

For its bicentennial, city leaders of New Albany, Ind., recently commissioned Benson to produce a 3D piece that celebrates four separate aspects of the community.

Benson sent a proposal he titled “The Stage That New Albany Built” to be considered and received the commission of Clubs and Organizations.

However, Benson has enlisted the help of students to assist in the creation of the piece.

Benson has hand-picked five freshman art majors to accompany and assist him, including Ashley Akerson, Beverly Delk, Amanda Rohde, Karis Kontillis and Anna Loi.

Benson generally tries to choose from the freshman class so that students get an early chance to see their career interests in real-world applications, he said.

“They get to see the profession that they are interested in,” Benson said. “They can see the reality of that and how it looks in the world. It’s a lot harder to be an artist than it is to make art. That’s the truism that most students don’t realize.”

Benson’s wife and partner in design, Betty Benson, will travel to New Albany ahead of him to look over the foundation of the area for the sculpture as well as lay important groundwork for the piece.

Accompanying her will be Paige Ward, art department shop technician, and Zac Benson, her son and a Union alumnus.

The piece, as described by Benson, will begin as a pile of lumber that will span at least 60 feet in an arching shape and will gradually grow into the finished product.

Benson said the initial pile will represent the beginning of a community; every few feet a partially built structure will eventually grow into the finished product.

The final 8 feet of the piece will be built into the completed structure of an amphitheater.

“It goes from chaos to perfection in the span of 60 feet,” Benson said, “The pile of lumber represents the coming together of people on a river and beginning a community, and the arch of the piece represents how in time it moves to a very structured arch.”

Benson also sees great importance in the students’ participation on a piece that has such deep and personal meaning behind it.

“Any vibrant, viable community almost immediately recognizes that the arts such as music, literature, visual arts and theater are just an integral part of their community,” Benson said. “It’s part of the health, vitality and understanding of a good community all tied into the arts.”