At IUP this weekend the talk of the block was probably artist John McCombie’s big bronze hawk. Haven’t seen it? Feel free to stop and gawk.
If you want to have a look, take a walk through the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex and direct your eyes upward. The 700-pound casting is suspended about 30 feet overhead, just at the top of the grand stairway leading up to the mezzanine.
The casting is a gift to the university from McCombie and a few other local IUP supporters. McCombie said the university needed a tangible representation of its nickname and mascot, the Crimson Hawk, and he, for one, was glad to provide it.
“It humbles me to think that I had an opportunity to make something like that,” said McCombie, a sculptor and painter who resides in Rayne Township.
A few IUP faithful got their first look at the casting Saturday during a private unveiling prior to Saturday’s football game against Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. A few others who have already seen it said the bronze sculpture is spectacular.
“There are few words that adequately describe it, but I believe it will be a source of spirit and pride and will serve as the centerpiece for student and family photos for years to come,” President Michael Driscoll told trustees last week, prior to the unveiling.
The casting depicts a hawk with wings out and legs outstretched as it readies to land on a perch.
McCombie said the project traces its origin to 2006, when the university was forced to adopt a new nickname by the NCAA. Until that time, IUP had been known as the Indians. But the organization took exception to the name and placed IUP, along with several other schools, on a sanctions list for using Native American nicknames or symbols.
Although IUP had stopped using Native American imagery in 1991, it was continuing to employ the Indian nickname but with a bear as a mascot.
McCombie said that he remains partial to the Indian nickname. However, he said he thinks the Crimson Hawk, which he had been advocating for, is a suitable replacement. As a bird of prey, it’s a brave and fierce hunter, he said. And it mates for life, denoting loyalty.
But what wasn’t suitable, he said, was the lack of a tangible icon standing for the nickname. So he set about to change that.
McCombie had been working on the project on and off for about a year and a half, sculpting the clay model used to form the casting. Although he sculpted the hawk, the casting was outsourced to a Colorado foundry, Lands End Sculpture Center.
The foundry cast the hawk using a process known as the lost-wax method. The end result was 100 to 150 bronze panels that were fitted and welded together, forming a hollow, three-dimensional sculpture.
Bill Speidel, vice president for university advancement, said the sculpture is an extraordinary gift to the university, one that that will provide a rallying point for students and alumni for years to come.
He said the decision was made to suspend the casting in the KCAC, as opposed to, say, perching it on a rock in the Oak Grove, in part because it ties in with McCombie’s vision — a hawk about to land on a perch. He also said the Kovalchick Complex was an ideal spot because it has become the hub for university athletics.
The hawk is hanging from the ceiling by two stainless steel cables. Ray Wygonik, director of IUP’s facilities engineering and construction group, said the university called in a structural engineer to design the suspension system for the sculpture.
He said the suspension system was designed with safety factors in multiples.
“The big thing is, it’s safe,” he said.