Sculpting future artists

University of Northern Iowa art professor Tom Stancliffe's passion for sculpture started at a young age. "As a kid, I was always doing creative things like drawing pictures, and when I look back, a lot of the time I was making stuff. Not art necessarily, but objects, toys. In some ways, the idea of being a sculptor seemed fairly obvious - that I was going to be making things with my hands."

Panther Village art
UNI's Panther Village is home to "Bower," a public art piece that was created and assembled in UNI's public art incubator.

Later in life, he was able to channel that passion into public art sculptures, such as his nature-inspired "Harvest" piece at the Cedar County Welcome Center and the swooping "To Wing" sculptures installed at the Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids.

Now, Stancliffe is working on sharing his passion with aspiring artists. Stancliffe is a driving force behind the public art incubator, a UNI program designed to aid regional artists in the production of their public art projects. While artists are able to utilize a well-equipped facility on campus, students reap the benefits as well. UNI art students are able to help create the pieces and get hands-on experience in the field of public arts.

Stancliffe has always handpicked a few UNI students to help him with his own personal art projects. With the new public art incubator, he saw a way to provide this exceptional opportunity to a much wider group of students.

One example of this interesting collaboration was the construction of the art pieces outside of the newly opened Panther Village residence halls. The sculpture, which was designed by regional artist Lynn Basa, gave several UNI students the opportunity to help create a piece of public art for their own campus. The work, titled "Bower," was assembled in the UNI art incubator, and the artist worked directly with students to fabricate the piece.

In many cases, Stancliffe says that students have the creative ability and ingenuity to design sculptures, but often lack the hands-on knowledge or expertise necessary to make these projects become reality. Through partnerships with established artists, students are able to gain the skills necessary to do their own work, and they can use their experiences with the public art incubator as a model for their professional careers. 

"The public art incubator is an important experience for students, because it gives them exposure to a real-world application of their studies," says Stancliffe. "It shows them that it is possible to have a career path as an artist, but you must see a path."