Enlightenment in Bronze: New ‘Inspiration’ Statue On Campus



Lebanon, Ill. — McKendree University has a new big man on campus.

“The Inspiration,” a classic bronze male statue by St. Louis sculptor Julianne Meder Sesti, expresses a moment of sudden enlightenment. It was installed on June 12 atop a plinth in front of the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts, on Alton Street in Lebanon.Photo of the Insiration Statue

Inspired by “The Thinker,” French artist Auguste Rodin’s icon of intellect, Sesti said she sought to portray “the goal of education.”

“My sculptures are almost always expressions of hope through strength and perseverance,” she said. “We think, we dream, we learn, we teach and we inspire, so that we can have those moments of inspiration that can solve our problems, change our lives and improve the world. ‘The Inspiration’ depicts a timeless classic (figure), who upon the foundation of other great thinkers and teachers, has arrived at that moment when the solution is clear and the future is at hand.”

Sitting upon a stack of three books – described by the artist as “the foundation of education” – his facial expression, body language and hand held aloft convey an “a-ha!” moment, an idea sparked by contemplation. It is a concept well-suited to a university and appropriately sited at the arts center, said Dr. James Dennis, McKendree president.

“It represents the kind of creative, original thought that takes place on campus,” he said.

The statue was privately funded as a gift from an alumni donor who prefers anonymity. A committee of staff members, administrators, art faculty, and the donor researched and consulted several artists throughout the U.S. and in China. The university commissioned Sesti, who had designed bronze medallions for the university’s mace, which is traditionally used in convocation and commencement ceremonies. Among Sesti’s most recent works are three religious figures inside the new Holy Trinity Church in Fairview Heights.

Photo of the Installation of the Inspiration StatueHe weighs 600 pounds and measures five feet, seven inches in height as seated. If he were standing, he would be about seven feet tall, said Sesti.

It took her nine-and-a-half months to create “The Inspiration” in the basement utility room of her Creve Coeur, Mo. home, which doubles as her studio. Sculpting the statue, from building its armature—the interior skeleton of metal pipes and wood—to putting final touches on the finished clay, was a six-month process. When the design was complete, it took another few months to make the silicone molds and waxes, and then to pour and weld the bronze pieces and apply a patina, or colored finish. The statue was cast at Heartland Foundry in Lawrence, KS.

Installation took about two hours to complete. The statue was lifted by a truck-mounted crane, placed and bolted onto a four-foot granite plinth.

The university plans to commission more statues for its historic Lebanon campus in the future, according to Dennis. A likeness of William McKendree, the Methodist bishop for whom the school is named, will be the next statue considered.

McKendree University is ranked among the top 10 percent of "Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the nation and in the “Great Schools, Great Prices” category by U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges 2009." For more information, visit www.mckendree.edu.

The Russel E. and Fern M. Hettenhausen Center for the Arts—also known as “The Hett”—is Southern Illinois’s premier performing arts venue, presenting world class dance, drama, classical music and jazz performances. The 488-seat venue, which opened in 2006, is located on the McKendree University campus, 25 miles from downtown St. Louis.