New sculpture brings historic Beech tree back to Young Hall
When the beautiful and historic Beech tree that stood next to Young Hall for years was taken down last year, the Centre community was devastated by its loss. Now, the tree is back on campus in a new form: as “Regeneration,” a sculpture created by local artist Russ Barragan.
The idea to create the six-foot-tall sculpture, located next to the grand staircase near Young 113, came shortly after news that the tree would be taken down.
“We knew the tree had died, and certainly were all anticipating the feeling of loss and talking about what we were going to do to save a piece of the wood,” says Professor of Biology Anne Lubbers, who led a committee to create the artwork. “Susie Roush gave us permission and asked the people cutting it down to save a chunk of one of the tree’s two trunks. We saved about a six-foot long segment.”
Next began the process of finding an artist to turn the piece into a sculpture.
“I contacted the Danville Arts Commission wondering if they had any local sculptors who worked with wood,” Lubbers says. “One of them had a portfolio that, although it was in stone, seemed like the kind of thing we were looking for, and that was Russ Barragan.”
Barragan was enthusiastic about creating a sculpture out of something that had been so meaningful to so many in the Centre community.
“This tree was a very important part of the College’s history—students and generations of students had enjoyed this tree, had lunch under it, met under it, slept under it, did homework under it, might even have met their significant other there,” Barragan says. “It was beloved. With that history in mind, I wanted to do something that would be really enjoyed and respected by people who had an attachment to the tree.”
After Barragan presented Lubbers and others on the committee with several options, they chose one—but also gave Barragan the freedom to diverge from the plan.
“Everyone on the committee felt that the artist had to have free range,” Lubbers says. “I told him we wanted something that wasn’t purely representative—we weren’t looking for a sculpture of a tree. Something more abstract, but with a feeling of growth, maybe incorporating renewal.”
Barragan agreed with their ideas.
“I wanted to do something that would convey the idea of new and young life,” he says. “I really wanted to have something organic that would give the idea of something alive and growing and blossoming.”
Carving from the Beech tree was a new challenge for Barragan, since wood is not a medium he works with often.
“I usually work in stone and clay and bronzes sometimes,” he says. “It was exciting but also a concern—I wanted to know everything I could so there was no damage to this wood because of my lack of knowledge. I had a responsibility to do everything I could to make this as good a piece as it could be.”
“It was a bit of a challenge because of the checks and cracks [in the wood], and we were all worried about that and whether it would work,” Lubbers says.
Barragan took his time working with the Beech tree trunk, and the finished product is stunning as a result—as seen from any angle.
“Almost every angle is really different and I really like, but from above you see this symmetry that I hadn’t expected at all,” says Lubbers of looking down at “Regeneration” from the top of the grand staircase in Young. “It’s well worth seeing it from as many angles as possible.”
Although new students won’t get the opportunity to appreciate the Beech tree as it stood outside of Young Hall, “Regeneration” preserves its memory for years to come.
“That’s the exciting thing about sculpture for me, is that it lasts so long,” Barragan says. “To have something that lasts beyond my own lifetime and even further beyond that is exciting. It’s also an honor having this piece permanently installed in such a prestigious college as Centre.”
“We have moved this part of the College history into the building—we still have it in a sense. It’s not completely lost,” Lubbers says. “Now it’s going to be giving joy in a different way.”