MAY 17, 2006


USAO public art project winner captures Oklahoma nature, culture in bronze

Inspired by Oklahoma’s state bird and American Indian images, California artist Archie Held has conceived a bronze sculpture titled “Flight” that will lift off from the front lawn of USAO’s Nash Library this fall. Known internationally for his large steel or bronze pieces, Held said his inspiration for USAO’s public art project came from the scissor-tailed flycatcher and the college experience. This project is the first associated with the new Office of Oklahoma Art in Public Places.

International artist Archie Held synthesizes Oklahoma’s natural fauna and native culture in a new sculpture to be unveiled this fall at the University of Science and Arts.

Oklahoma’s public liberal arts college has teamed up with the new Office of Oklahoma Art in Public Places to bring new art to the state. After a search that produced submissions from 82 artists around the world, USAO announces Archie Held as the winner.

Held already has begun work on the large bird-like sculpture at his studio in Richmond, Calif. This fall, the sculpture is scheduled to be erected in the Alumni Walk of Fame in front of the USAO Nash Library.

Titled “Flight,” this piece is inspired by Oklahoma’s state bird, the wide-open possibilities of life after college and the artwork of Native American artist Acee Blue Eagle, who painted murals in 1935 on the walls of the original gymnasium building on campus.

“The long grass strip in front of Nash Library … seemed to be a great ‘launching’ space for a work of art,” said Held. “The first of my three sons is in college and I am very excited about the possibilities he has to take wing and make his contribution in the world. So that’s what stuck with me from the beginning, this sense of flight and as I tried to give it a form I began drawing wings.”

After a personal visit to USAO, Held began sculpting dozens of different wing images. “It reminded me of my love for making airplane models as a boy,” he said. “Those airplanes had a curving keel-like shape that kept them suspended.”

However, Held wasn’t happy using supports to hold up the wings. Once he began researching Oklahoma’s natural birds, he found his answer.

“It was when I was looking at the birds of Oklahoma that I found what I was looking for in the tail feathers of the scissor-tailed flycatcher,” he said. In addition, Held was influenced by native elements in Blue Eagle’s artwork such as feathers and a keel-shaped basket drawn by a horse. The shape is similar to that of the flycatcher’s tail.

But this is no little bird. With a wingspan of 14 feet and a length of 16 feet, this bronze bird lifts six feet off the ground, leaving enough room for a person to eat lunch underneath it.

Artist-educator Cecil Lee, Regents Professor of Art and director of the USAO Art Gallery, said the sculpture will add a new focus to the landscape of the college. “When the work is fully realized, I think it will be very powerful,” he said. “It has a stark simplicity that will become … a central image to the new campus.”

The image, he said, is something viewers are sure to enjoy. “This is not a departure from being avant-garde,” he said. “I think it’s a lot like Chopin’s ‘C Minor Prelude’ – you can’t find fault with it, and people love it the first time they hear it.”

A two-minute video featuring renderings and illustrations of “Flight” is available online at

Commissioning a sculpture of its size is not only a first for USAO; it is the first time any educational institution in Oklahoma has collaborated with the newly formed Office of Oklahoma Art in Public Places to create publicly displayed art.

Contact: Michael Bendure, USAO News Bureau, 1.405.574.1362