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'A sense of pride': Statue commemorates 125 years of Auburn women

Women's statue in front of Ralph Brown Draughon Library on Sep. 9, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.
Women's statue in front of Ralph Brown Draughon Library on Sep. 9, 2019, in Auburn, Ala.

 Sometimes the smallest of things can have a backstory that’s more than meets the eye — and in this case, it’s a new sculpture that has greeted students, staff and visitors to the University this fall outside the Mell Classroom Building. It’s a simple silhouette of a woman’s head, but behind its metallic finish are the generations of Auburn women who have made their lasting impact on the Univeristy.

The nameless statue celebrates the 125th anniversary of the first co-ed class at the University, built as a lasting memoriam to the celebration in 2017, along with the Theatre III amphitheater behind it that was added last year.

“We began talking about how it would be really neat if we had a sculpture on Auburn’s campus that commemorated this and really tied with Theatre III to give an overall picture of the story,” said Angie Stephens, associate VP for constituent development in the Office of Development. Stephens was a member of the committee established within Auburn Alumni Affairs to remember the anniversary.

At the same time as the celebration, the east side of campus was seeing extensive construction and renovation with the Mell building underway to open in August. This also led to a revamp of the Mell Corridor walkway.

“[Tim Boosinger, who was the provost at the time,] had also talked about the possibility of having an amphitheater in conjunction with the corridor improvement project,” Stephens said.

With this in mind, the committee requested they take on the project for fundraising, and with support from alumni, the idea was born to develop a corner near the Lower Quad dorms in honor of Auburn women’s history.

As the Theatre III project was being added in summer 2018, the sculpture was moving through the design process at Advent, a design firm based in Nashville, Tennessee. Advent has seen involvement in numerous Auburn structures in past years, such as the indoor football practice facility, Lowder Hall and the recent Harbert Family Recruiting Center. Its lead in the sculpture, however, would be a different, smaller-scale assignment than other projects from the University.

At its helm was lead designer Lauren Duke Patterson, a veteran employee of the firm who graduated from Auburn with a master’s degree in business administration in 2011. 

“When we first started, I pulled in a large group of our team, say 50% of that team was Auburn grads,” Patterson said. “We ended up whittling it down to a smaller team.”

Other members of the Auburn Family involved were Colin Sandlin and Seth Maddox, graduates in industrial design, and Abby Stevens, who earned a degree in public relations and communication. Patterson credits John Henley as the driving force and final designer of the statue itself.

Advent initially received the offer for the statue in August 2017, and preparations and the design were complete by October, going through three rounds of idea phases by Patterson’s team.

“We sketched out a wide variety of concepts. Our design intent all along was for Auburn women to feel honored when they saw the statue,” Patterson said.

The winning design ended up being the brainchild of Patterson herself, who marveled at the existing logo in use for the 125th anniversary. Designed by Alumni Affairs’s art design specialist, Heather Peevy, the woman’s silhouette caught Patterson’s eye as a minimalist, all-inclusive choice.

“It was funny, we were on the final round of conceptual design when I received the Auburn alumni magazine in the mail and realized that the correct solution for the statue was right in front of me,” Patterson said. “It seems so logical, it made the most sense. It works with their brand, it works with their message: it represented all women.”

The historical context of the logo and, in turn, the statue, lies in the enrollment of Auburn’s first three female students in 1892: Willie Little, Katherine Broun and Margaret Teague. Auburn, then the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, was the first higher education institution in the state that allowed women to enroll in classes.

“We truly anticipate that they walked across the ground on their way to class which was then in Old Main, which not only made history but also changed the course of history for every student who has followed in their footsteps,” Stephens said. “The sculpture is facing Samford Hall, which is Old Main, and we did that on purpose.”

Its final location beside the Quad dorms, some of which are named for the three women, was not chosen by the anniversary committee, but Stephens expressed delight in the selected spot for that reason.

Though development took just a few months, the sculpture’s fabrication would be the biggest task for both parties, taking much longer.

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Students and faculty might notice that the statue is the only installation of its kind in the heart of the University. While statues of famed football players surround Jordan-Hare Stadium, there were no such art pieces on display among Auburn’s institutional buildings.

“We had to pave that way and get that approved,” Stephens said. “We were actually the first sculpture to go before the Auburn Art Committee for approval.”

This feat of being first was also vital to Patterson and her team, who put a lot of thought into the durability of the statue knowing it would be one of the few on University property.

“It’s really important, since students are going to be seeing it every day, that we made the design perfect just to ensure that everyone was happy with it,” she said. “I’m hoping one of the things we did with the base is allow you to have a spot to grab a seat or to take your photo in front of it, to connect with the statue.”

With the finishing touches of plaques and lights added to the statue, Alumni Affairs will be hosting a dedication ceremony at the corner of the statue and Theatre III on Sept. 27 at 2 p.m. Featured speakers of the event will be anniversary committee chair Melanie Barstad, members Gretchen VanValkenburg and Jane Parker, Sarah Newton of the Women’s Leadership Institute and interim president Jay Gogue.

“I hope the statue invokes a sense of pride in being an Auburn woman,” Patterson said. “We’re a strong network and have gone or will go on to do amazing things with the education we’ve received at Auburn.”

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