On a recent afternoon with only a week before graduation at Jacksonville University, Professor Jim Benedict’s class was hard at work.
They class of sophomores, juniors and seniors have end of the year exams and papers just like everyone else on campus, but the final project that they were working on this particular day, did not involve pencils, textbooks and paper. Instead, it called for bronze, stainless steel and a whole lot of welding.
The end result won’t get placed in a stack of course files, either. It will be standing tall in the university’s science green for all the campus to see.
"We have other public art pieces but I would say this is really the first kind of iconic JU-specific piece that we've done with our sculpture program for campus," said Benedict, an assistant professor of sculpture.
Outside students shuffled around a halfway complete metal sculpture, while inside the studio the sound of hammers and welding machines echoed around him.
So far, his class has created two other pieces of artwork that grace the JU campus, but the one they're working on now, may be their biggest yet.
Back in January, the class of nine students were commissioned by JU President Tim Cost to create a piece representative of the school and its student voice. They came up with a bronze-encrusted homage to the university’s mascot: The noble dolphin.
The class is now in the process of completing a nearly 10-foot sculpture of two dolphins emerging from a wave of stainless steel. The dolphins, measuring seven and five-feet long, are made up of a few thousand carefully cut and sanded bronze strips.
"It's about creating an icon that really that makes a great sort of center piece for campus," Benedict said.
The sculpture will be unveiled on the campus green graduation day. And with commencement day only a few days away, that means a plenty of extra hours for the sophomores, juniors and seniors constructing it.
Junior Emily Sammons is one of them.
"I’m here until midnight or 1 o’clock but I’m a commuter so I usually leave by then," said the Callahan resident.
Other students in the class can stay as late as 3 or 4 a.m., she said.
Junior D.C. Mills, who is majoring in the humanities, said the skill set he’s gained along the way spans beyond art.
"It’s like you see stuff that you haven’t before so it helps with tons of problem-solving, all the way up to time management because here we are all the way up to the end," he said.
And the end result will span far beyond this class, said professor Jim Benedict.
"This is a class but it's more than that," he said. "It's really a chance to make a statement on campus and to have a legacy that you can bring your grandchildren to come see."
That’s the way JU junior Adam Green sees it.
"I plan on bringing my kids back to see this when they come here, hopefully," he said "It's something great. It's the landmark of our school."
Green plans to pursue a career in public art someday.
"Basically, now I feel comfortable to go out and do anything to sell myself to make money doing this," he said.
You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.