KOKOMO, Ind. —Since Indiana University Kokomo added outdoor sculptures to its campus in 2016, it has rotated artwork out, to be replaced with new pieces every two years.
In 2023, a metal sculpture created by two students and a faculty member took a permanent place in the collection.
Victory Unchained, designed and built by Gregory Steel, professor of fine arts, Cybil Johnson, a May 2023 new media, art, and technology graduate (NMAT), and Jimmy Murphy, a junior in the NMAT program, was recently dedicated at the east end of the Kelley Student Center.
Standing about 10 feet tall, it’s inspired by Winged Victory of Samothrace, a masterpiece of Greek sculpture dating from the beginning of the 2nd century BC. It is composed of a statue representing the goddess Niké, or Victory.
“We wanted a name that has a metaphorical connection,” Steel said. “It also relates to education. Graduation, earning a degree is a big victory, a momentous occasion. It’s not easy. It’s an important moment, and it is a victory along the road. That’s what life is, a series of accomplishments.”
Johnson is proud to leave artwork behind after moving to Southern Illinois University to begin a Master of Fine Arts degree, funded by a full fellowship.
“I really wanted to leave something of mine here,” she said. In addition to the work they created this summer, Johnson and Steel each have an individual piece displayed.
She enjoyed the creative process of working as a team with an experienced professor, herself as a recent graduate, and Murphy who is just learning to make large-scale sculpture.
“We had three different perspectives,” she said. “It was fun to bounce ideas off each other. We worked well together and had a good time. It’s nice to know Jimmy is interested and will continue creating large sculptures after I am gone.”
Murphy, from Peru, said working with a small group meant he received more hands-on instruction, with mentors to guide him.
“I’d done smaller metal work, but nothing to this extent,” he said. “It was a cool experience.”
Steel said the two students experienced an apprenticeship of sorts as they built the piece.
“We made one large metal sculpture, but within that making of a large sculpture, there was a lot of knowledge being translated that otherwise would not be translated,” he said. “I have over 50 years of making experience developed over the years. I can’t hand them my experience, but I can show them what I know as we work together, which is valuable.”
Steel devised the idea of creating work with students because of budget cuts that impacted the outdoor artwork program. The campus has paid to lease works for two years at a time, but having sculptures permanently installed will help reduce that cost. He noted that Chancellor Mark Canada provided funding for the work.
Steel, Johnson, and Murphy first created drawings of the work, then made patterns from paper to estimate how large it would be, and to use when cutting their material.
It’s a different kind of work than what they’ve traditionally done, Steel said.
“They’ve learned how to make a pattern, engineer, and deal with mechanics like how to drain water, so the sculpture doesn’t rust, things that art students don’t typically have to deal with,” Steel said. “This is a nice way to furnish our campus with sculptures made by students that will be here permanently, while also teaching them how to make something that’s going to last a long time.”