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Seattle University


"Playful and Profound"

Written by Mike Thee
March 26, 2012

A dramatic new work of art appeared on Seattle University's campus during spring break. Situated in the garden between the second floors of the Student Center and the Library and Learning Commons, the sculpture appears to consist of large ice cubes or blocks of glass.

Upon closer inspection, the cubes are made of a durable, specially cast resin. Created by renowned Seattle-area artist Joe McDonnell, the sculpture consists of about 65 semi-translucent blocks. Each cube is approximately two feet on each side and weighs about five pounds. McDonnell and his assistant painstakingly assembled the sculpture on campus throughout most of last week, carefully positioning the blocks in just the right way. It was not their first run-through-they had previously put the sculpture together in McDonnell's studio.

The cubes at their highest point are more than 12 feet off the ground. When you look at the blocks nearest to the top, they seem precariously perched, as if they are about to roll off the pile and onto the ground. But don't worry--it's only an illusion. The blocks are fastened to the wall in the background and to a special anchoring frame beneath them. As striking as the installation is in the day time, the sculpture elicits perhaps even more delight in the evening when illuminated by a series of LED light bars that can change colors.

This latest addition to the campus art collection is a gift of longtime university friend Ann Wyckoff. A passionate collector and patron of the arts, Wyckoff chaired the Seattle Art Museum board committee that developed the Olympic Sculpture Park on the Seattle waterfront.

You Name It!

Seattle University and artist Joe McDonnell invite you to suggest a name for the university’s newest sculpture. Send your suggested name to by noon on April 9. The winner will receive a lunch with the artist, a signed photo of the artwork and a $50 gift certificate to the SU Bookstore.

"The sculpture is simultaneously playful and profound, and I hope it will positively engage and visually refresh people when they walk between the Student Center and the Library and Learning Commons," said Jerry Cobb, S.J.  

Father Cobb, who is currently serving as provincial assistant for the Oregon Province after taking a leave of absence from SU in 2010, has long been involved in expanding the university's art collection. He and Jim Hembree, senior director of development in University Advancement, were instrumental in bringing McDonnell's sculpture to SU.

The sculpture, as Hembree sees it, is part of a growing trend at SU. For some time, he points out, most of the university's artistic treasures have graced the interior spaces of our buildings, but in recent years, "Outdoor sculpture is gaining a more prominent presence on our campus. This is a big growth area for SU's art collection."

McDonnell's work joins Joel Shapiro's bronze "Running Man" on the library's lawn, which was made possible by Dick and Betty Hedreen in 2010, as well as Preston Singletary's Northwest Native-inspired "Transformations" piece, which was installed on the north side of the Admissions & Alumni Building last summer.

While SU's latest sculpture may be outdoors, it can just as easily be enjoyed by those having a bite to eat in the Student Center or studying in the Library and Learning Commons. McDonnell worked for more than a year conceiving and executing the project. Students and other campus community members provided feedback and responses to the work as it evolved. 

McDonnell has produced more than 150 major commissions for institutions, corporations and individuals including CBS, IBM, General Electric, Readers Digest, Dulles Airport, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the New Jersey state government. Known primarily for his distinguished work in sculpting metal and bronze, McDonnell in recent years has turned to glass and cast resins as part of what he calls the "ice age" phase of his career.

You can learn more about the artist and his works at