Northern Illinois University has installed sculptor Bruce Niemi’s “Remembered” at the Forward, Together Forward Memorial Garden near Cole Hall.
Sculptor Bruce Niemi, a 1981 NIU alum, helped to install his sculpture last week.
Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
October 5, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. — Standing nearly 18 feet tall, its quintet of flames interwoven toward the heavens, the final element of Northern Illinois University’s Forward, Together Forward Memorial Garden is now in place.
Workers installed sculptor Bruce A. Niemi’s “Remembered” last week in the front-and-center spot of the garden just east of Cole Hall, the site of the Feb. 14, 2008, tragedy.
Behind the sculpture is the reflection wall, five sections of red granite, each bearing the name of a student who lost his or her life. Young trees – the “living fossils” Dawn Redwoods and the Illinois state tree White Oaks – and benches surround the stainless steel sculpture.
Members of NIU’s memorial committee truly wanted both the garden, designed by Arlington Heights-based HMK Architects + Planners Inc., and a sculpture. Generous donations made that possible, says Michael P. Malone, vice president for university advancement.
All now are thrilled by Niemi’s work and its installation, says Malone, who includes himself in that appreciation.
“I see hope. I see something pointing skyward. I see ascension. I see five elements in that sculpture. Once you look at the interconnecting triangles, or flames, it really starts to add meaning to that site in a way that only art can,” Malone says. “I’m sure everyone feels something a little different – but the idea is that they do feel something.”
Niemi, a 1981 NIU alum with a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in sculpture, calls his selection to produce the work “an amazing honor.” He has been sculpting for nearly four decades, beginning his tutelage under his father, Frank J. Niemi, also a sculptor.
In addition to his own degree, the resident of Bristol, Wis., has a niece who is a student at NIU. He also has a sculpture called “Living the Dream” erected outside the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.
“The first thing I thought about was the parents and trying to help them heal. I wanted to make it positive and uplifting, which is, honestly, what I always try to do when I create artwork. But this was something more meaningful,” Niemi says. “I start by praying before I do a piece like this. I know God gave me this gift to be creative, and I need to pray first. When I don’t, I sit there and look at the metal. Then I humble myself and say, ‘You know what? I didn’t pray about this one.’ ”
Niemi recalled the newspaper photographs and television images he had seen of NIU students, faculty and staff holding candles at the vigil, making him think of the eternal fame.
Fire is a recurring theme for him – one of his sculptures, the Eternal Flame War Memorial, found in Worth, Ill., pays tribute to the five branches of the U.S. military and honors all the veterans of all wars and conflicts – and the concept of flames seemed appropriate again.
“I wanted to work with five separate pieces, one for every student, with an uplifting flow. The five pieces combine to create a flame shape,” he says. “I think the garden works nicely. The contrast between the reddish-brown granite stones and the stainless steel sculpture helps it to create its own space, and the sculpture becomes protected by the wall and the trees. I think the trees, in the long run, are going to become giants and form a protective covering.”
The families of Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter and those students who were wounded inside Cole Hall have been invited to see the sculpture at a private gathering, Malone says.
However, no public ceremony is planned.
“This was meant to be appreciated personally,” Malone says. “It’s meant to be a place for personal remembrance and personal reflection.”
Visit http://www.niu.edu/forward/ for more information about NIU’s remembrance of Feb. 14, 2008.
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