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Museum Mondays: Professor upcycling before it was trendy

September 16, 2013

“…finally tearing down Smith Observatory in April 1969 to make way for the Neese Theatre complex. Some of the dismantled limestone ended up in a retaining wall behind Wood and Haven halls, a last reminder of one of old Beloit’s storied buildings.”

                                                                       --Fridays with Fred, March 24, 2011

As the college archivist noted, when the old Smith Observatory came down some of the limestone stayed on campus. Other building materials were discarded, but a significant portion of copper from the observatory was offered to art professor (and alumnus) O.V. Shaffer’50--you may know the name from some of the free-standing sculptures on the college grounds and around the city.

Shaffer wasted no time refurbishing the copper. He spent hours hammering out a controlled texture into the surface of the metal. He then wrapped the thin copper plating over a four-by-six-foot square of plywood, and applied a finishing patina to both protect the metal from the slow erosion of time and to emphasize the natural orange, ochre, and gold tones. Finally, he methodically hammered copper and brass nails into the surface and through the plywood support. The result was a stunning hammered copper wall sculpture.

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The piece was sold to the Carter family in January of 1970 who proudly displayed the work on a brick wall in their home. This summer, with the help of Pam Prescott in External Affairs, the Carter family decided to gift the Shaffer wall sculpture to Beloit College, and the Shaffer piece now hangs in the main lobby of the Hendricks Center. (A formal announcement will be made once the piece has been officially accessioned into the Beloit College Collection.)

It’s a story suitable for a place that is so unique. A professor upcycling before it was trendy, and a piece of old Beloit College refurbished, reinvented, and eventually returned to campus.