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Alumnus to rebuild iconic sculpture

By : Eric Coker

It’s out with the old Dickinson “Object” and in with the new.

The structure that has served as the icon of Dickinson Community for 42 years has been dismantled and will be replaced with an updated version during Homecoming weekend.

Donald Walford ’67, who designed the original sculpture with discarded wooden railroad ties, will return to the campus from his Colorado home to rebuild his creation with environmentally friendly materials on Saturday, Oct. 3.

“It’s flattering,” Walford said of the opportunity to rebuild his sculpture during Dickinson’s 50th anniversary celebration. “Of all the things I’ve done, I didn’t see that as something that would pop up like this.”

Walford, who grew up in Binghamton, designed the sculpture as his senior art project under the direction of Ed Wilson, former associate professor of art. Walford called his work “Construction No. 3” because the Dickinson site was the third potential site for the project.

“I thought it was great,” he said of his planned sculpture. “Who wouldn’t want it? Well, it was a fair-sized list at Harpur College.

“I was getting a little spooked,” said Walford, who needed to finish the project
to graduate. “But Ed Wilson and Ken Lindsay must’ve persuaded somebody. At the last minute, we got it cleared. I was planning to take a week to build it, but I only had two or three days.”

Walford had plenty of assistance: brother Gary; Wilson; other friends from Harpur. Even state Sen. Warren Anderson, a friend of the family, helped out.

“Some people who claimed to work on it probably did,” Walford said. “I really don’t remember their names. There were a lot of people who thought it looked fun, so they just helped.”

Walford also made a vow to Wilson to someday replace the sculpture, although he certainly wasn’t looking too far into the future.

“(Wilson) said, ‘You know, this work isn’t going to last forever, buddy,’” Walford said. “I thought, ‘Oh, forever will never come.’ It just doesn’t come to a 20-year-old. I knew what I had to do to graduate. I had to get that (project) done.”

Over the years, “Construction No. 3” would become “The Collegiate Structure” and later “The Object.” It would also become an icon for Dickinson, a place for current students to climb and gather and a photo site for alumni.

By summer 2009, Physical Facilities determined that the structure was no longer stable and posed a safety concern. Patricia Wrobel, director of development for student affairs, sent an e-mail to 270 alums from the classes of 1967 and 1968 seeking information about the Object. She received 32 responses, including one from Walford.

“My thinking was: ‘Here’s an alum. This was his senior art project. It’s been on this campus for 42 years. If nothing else, I should talk to him,’” she said. “He could’ve said to me, ‘Oh, just tear it down.’”

Walford and Wrobel agreed that the time was right for an update. Walford made arrangements to use recycled plastic railroad ties that are used by Burlington Northern and made by Recycle Technologies International in Florida.

The original Object was removed by Physical Facilities on Sept. 24. Walford saw photos of the dismantling.

“I thought maybe it would bother me. But it didn’t bother me at all. I said, ‘It’s about time. That thing looked like a wreck.’”

The new sculpture will weigh 3 tons and be completed in one day. Walford will get help from current Dickinson students with mechanical engineering or industrial engineering backgrounds, alumni friends, Physical Facilities and his brother Gary, who is now a cardiologist in Syracuse.

The public will be able to watch the construction, Wrobel said.

Walford, who lives in Boulder, Colo., and is chairman of Eveia Medical Inc., remains surprised that his art has not only stood the test of time, but has meant a great deal to former and current students.

“I’m still not sure I believe it,” he said. “I think it’s interesting that it’s on a T-shirt. And I’m still interested in the design.”

“It’s really nice,” he said of the accolades. “It’s a cool way to stretch your mortality.”


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Last Updated: 10/14/08