Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Ladder to Success

Sheila Hawkey and Kate Spencer (MFA student and post baccalaureate student, respectively), The Ladder to Success, 2011, Fibers (silk organza, habotai, cotton, wool, and gold leaf), Commissioned by the Unions Arts Council.

Today I thought I would write a celebratory post! Artists Sheila Hawkey and Kate Spencer have completed a new public artwork for the Missouri Student Unions. Hawkey and Spencer developed the concept with MU professor and fiber artist Jo Stealey in Dr. Stealey’s Advanced Fiber course last semester.This newest addition to the Missouri Student Union’s public art collection was commissioned by the Unions Arts Council annual competition.

Hawkey and Spencer working on the piece, photo credit University of Missouri Fibers MFA Program.

After several months of anticipation, The Ladder to Success was installed on the main floor of the student center on the west side of the grand fireplace. For me, this work demonstrates the fact that, when done well, public art in a university setting can be more than decoration; rather, it can be used to enhance students’ relationships to their community and to their place. In other words, while this piece is certainly beautiful and intricately constructed, it is also imbued with insightful messages for Mizzou students.

Indeed, The Ladder to Success acts as a visual reminder to students that their Mizzou educational achievements are steps along a lifelong journey toward the realization of their future goals. The three-paneled fibers piece, which was conceptualized and hand-constructed by Hawkey and Spencer, is comprised of hand painted and dyed fabric as well as felt made from locally sourced alpaca. Each panel is thoughtfully adorned with repeated line motifs intended to suggest the progressive rungs of a ladder. Notably, the ladder’s rungs become less uniform and more abstract as they ascend, reflecting life’s increasing complexity as one takes on the responsibilities of adulthood.

As with the overall shape and composition, the fabric colors and dye techniques were carefully selected by Hawkey and Spencer for their symbolic resonance. Most obviously, the black and gold that dominates the overall color scheme and the cloth dyed to approximate tiger striped patterns are direct references to Mizzou tradition. However, for the artists, the color choices carry multiple meanings. First, the grays and blacks of the bottom panel signify a solid educational foundation from which to begin one’s journey. Likewise, the earth tones and cool slate blues of the second panel evoke the layered stratifications of the earth’s crust, reinforcing the work’s message of upward progression and change.  Finally, the ephemeral wisps of sky blue and the bright bursts of yellow at the top communicate transcendence and intellectual fulfillment.

***If you’re on campus, join us today (Thursday, October 20th) for the Ladder to Success Art reception. The reception will be held at the MU Student Center on the Main Level (901 E. Rollins, Columbia, MO 65211) and refreshments will be served at 4:00pm. 

Authored by Niki Eaton, PhD Student, Art History and Archaeology