OXFORD — A university seal tends to be familiar when seen on a letterhead or in a concrete or bronze rendering, but many who see it often would be hard-pressed to describe it in detail or explain its significance. Beginning next month, however, the Miami University seal will be on display in a three-dimensional version that will make it more memorable.
The project to recreate the seal in the floor of the new Armstrong Student Center has been in the works for two years and will be ready for the second semester of the current academic year.
Retired university architect Robert Keller has shepherded the project from the idea to installation.
He conceived of the project while still employed as an architect, prior to retirement a year ago, when the idea arose of putting the seal in the floor of the building in the second floor Bicentennial Rotunda. The seal is 12 feet across and set almost three feet into the floor. It will be covered in glass nearly two inches thick.
At the installation last week, Keller speculated on whether people would walk across it or around it, finally guessing most would go around. It is designed to be part of the floor so that it can be walked on and seen from above.
“I had never seen the seal in anything but duo-tone — red and white or black and white on paper — or cast in bronze or concrete,” Keller said last week as the new seal was being installed. “I realized early the challenge of color selection.”
Before that, however, came the birth of the concept and buy-in from many people.
“My initial concept was to make the seal 3-D and after the president agreed, we got a lot of people involved in the project. It’s special because so many people were involved — students, faculty, alums, contractors,” Keller said. “We used so many elements for the idea to bring the seal to life.”
The three main elements of the seal are a book, representing the past; a globe, representing the present; and a telescope, representing the future.
The open book is a compilation of entries from a student contest last spring. The book is displayed and opened to the winning entry. It contains essays written by students and 12 sketches of Miami landmarks by twin sisters majoring in architecture. They are launching a freelance business featuring their sketches.
“We created the book. Miami even created the paper used to publish it,” Keller said.
The globe was found in the attic of the physics department in Culler Hall and was the right size for the project. It was, however, a celestial globe and not of the earth, but a master’s student in metalsmithing made the globe’s continents, hammering out the mountains. The globe lights up, which will add to the effect.
The telescope, symbolizing discovery, was also a physics department contribution but a base had to be fabricated for it.
“It had no base. Actually, it was a finder’s scope for mounting on top of a telescope, but it was the right size. The base was created in the instrumentation lab. Staff designed and fabricated it,” Keller said.
Miami’s seal has a star at the top and comets going toward it from each side. Those were contributed by a Craftsummer bronze casting class taught by Jim Killy, who was present at the installation last week.
Killy said the idea of contributing to something expected to be a part of the campus scene for many years into the future appeals to him as an artist.
“The class got together and did part of this,” he said.
There are more uniquely Miami facets to the 3-D seal project.
The seal has a rope-like border to it and Keller spent a lot of time over the past year, trying to find a way to use various types of rope to create something with the right width to fit the scale of the project. He tried climbing ropes, Naval ROTC ropes and others related to Miami and then tried to find a way to make them to scale.
Finally, he hit upon the ropes used for the Greek Week tug-of-war for the past several years and students came up with a way to weave them around PVC pipe to not only get the right size to scale, but to use shades of brown for a two-tone effect.
The seal has dots around an inner circle, which also lent itself to including a bit more Miami history.
“As an old bricklayer myself, I see bricks on end, so we used bricks from old buildings, including Stoddard and Elliott, the two oldest buildings on campus,” Keller said.
The university’s Latin motto, “Prodesse Quam Conspici,” was a contribution by a company, which fabricated it.
Finally, the base of the seal has a fiber optic recreation of the night sky, but Keller said they wanted something more than just a random night sky configuration. They wanted the night sky over Oxford and approached the physics department about the possibility of recreating a night sky over 200 years ago.
“The physics department told us what the night sky looked like over Oxford, Ohio on Miami’s founding day, February 17, 1809,” he said. The lights beneath the seal’s figures show the early-evening sky on that date.
Keller, a 1973 Miami graduate, is excited about the seal project and after two years in the planning stage having it finally installed in the floor of the new student center where everyone will be able to see it next month is a big moment.
“We went to the president first to float the idea and then off we went,” Keller said. “We were able to find so many objects on campus. There’s a story behind everything in here.”
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