Neri’s ‘Escalieta I’ an image of upward yearning in presidential season

Detail from "Escalieta I" by Manuel Neri, 1998

I love walking across college campuses. The air is different there. It’s a place of learning and transformation, of innovation and research, of great promise and high energy. The artwork that surrounds strollers through Iowa State University’s grounds heightens the energy.

It can be thought provoking and emotion provoking at once, beautiful and ugly, and it tells a story of the campus and the world.

For example, an artwork by famed American sculptor, painter and print maker Manuel Neri was the focus of ISU’s January Art Walk. Neri’s “Escalieta I” is a haunting fragment of life in the process of coming to be, still incomplete but striving for perfection. The title sounds cognate with the word for stairway, a place of ascension.

David Faux, interpretation specialist with Iowa State University Museums, discussed Manuel Neri's sculpture. "Escalieta I."
David Faux, interpretation specialist with Iowa State University Museums, discussed Manuel Neri’s sculpture. “Escalieta I.”

Neri was born in Sanger, Calif., in 1930 and was the 2006 recipient of the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award.

“Escalieta I,” a work from 1998, has been described as depicting “humanity in a stately yet precarious transition, reflecting the evolution of human body and mind over time.”

The descriptive plaque in the Gerdin Business Building, where “Escalieta I” stands prominently, reads, “This vulnerable and proud representation of humanity is in a continuous state of transformation, just as students are intellectually and emotionally sculpted, formed, defined and transformed at Iowa State University during their academic careers.”

Interpretations from the art walk participants varied. One described the statue as a “retooling of ideas” and a work of “old thought removed.” Another said the work encourages viewers to “place your own face within that form.” It is an image of “destruction and creation,” according to a third.

'Escalieta I' by Manueal Neri, 1998
‘Escalieta I’ by Manuel Neri, 1998

One would hope these are things — feelings and ideas — not only fostered in an educational setting but that also become part of our lifelong journeys, a “continuous state of transformation” for all citizens.

As informed, contributing and active members of our communities and our nation, we should be continuously researching and learning, abandoning old, out-dated ideas and transforming into smarter, more developed, more enlightened human beings.

In this election season, I hope that all eligible voters will immerse themselves in the facts of this “precarious transition” in the presidency and other elected officeholders and ensure that your votes are “intellectually and emotionally sculpted, formed, defined and transformed” by facts and not exaggerations.

I hope development and growth that results in a “transformation” of opinion is a valued and respected process and not a viewed as a flaw or a weakness.

What kind of citizen do you want to emerge from the marble? What kind of America do you want to help sculpt, form and define by your votes and by your involvement in our democracy?


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