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Sept. 23, 2004 • Volume 13 Number 2

"The Tree of Life," a sculpture by Peter Rockwell, will be installed at O'Neill Plaza. (Photo courtesy of Peter Rockwell).

BC to Unveil 'Tree of Life'

Dedication of fountain on Oct. 3 part of effort to display Christian art

By Stephen Gawlik
Staff Writer

The dedication of a fountain next month on O'Neill Plaza is the latest step in the University's efforts to introduce on campus art expressing Christian spirituality and tradition.

"The Tree of Life," sculpted by Peter Rockwell, son of famed Saturday Evening Post cover artist Norman Rockwell, will be unveiled on Sunday, Oct. 3, following the Parents' Weekend Mass.

Rockwell, who is expected to be present at the ceremony, also will be on campus Oct. 7 to talk about his creation at 7:30 p.m. in Devlin 008.

The fountain will be located between O'Neill Plaza and Linden Lane, adjacent to the St. Mary's rose garden. Masonry crews and plumbers have been busy for weeks preparing the site for the structure, which stands just under 10 feet tall and more than six feet in width.

"The goal is to enrich the campus aesthetically and spiritually," said Assoc. Prof. Franco Mormando (Romance Languages), a member of the University's Christian Art Committee, which commissioned the work.

The committee was formed as part of an initiative by University President William P. Leahy, SJ, to affirm Boston College's Jesuit and Catholic heritage and identity. Working under the direction of the Office of University Mission and Ministry, the committee seeks to identify and present Christian art for display on campus.

"Throughout history it has been a tradition for Catholic institutions to use art to teach and inspire," and "The Tree of Life" is intended to continue that tradition, said Mormando.

Made of bronze, the statue represents an olive tree with with its characteristic bifurcated trunk and a space in the center that resembles a pair of hands. The hands hold an infant, laughing and reaching skyward as two children climb up, reaching for the child. In the middle, where the flowering begins, is a dead body - meant to symbolize the body of Jesus Christ, according to Rockwell - which connects the two tree trunks.

On the right side of the tree is a crucifix and the left side, from where flowers grow, is another child, seeming to fly between the branches while reaching for the cross. Uniting the two parts of the tree is a bird, meant to symbolize the Holy Spirit, Rockwell said. Water will flow from four masks at the base of the fountain, each one pointing a different direction.

"It's a feast for the eyes, the heart and the soul. It's a piece of art that will definitely make viewers think," said Mormando.

Said Jesuit Institute Director T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, "Peter has captured the essential character of Christianity in a very imaginative, contemporary way."

Fr. Kennedy first approached Rockwell in late 2000 about the project. At the time, recalled the sculptor in an interview last week, he was not enthusiastic about taking on more work.

"I had just finished a major project and wasn't feeling that it was the right time," said Rockwell, a Vermont native now living in Rome.

The night after their conversation, however, Rockwell says, he had a dream about the project as he slept. He took it as a cue to get back to work.

"There is some difference between what I dreamt and what came to be," said Rockwell, who spent three years designing the fountain and working closely with the Christian Art Committee on some of the details.

While interpretation of the fountain is open to the viewer, Rockwell said one point he wanted to convey was the "naturalness of a lot of the theological images."

"They are a living part of nature and I think it's important for people to see that," he said.

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