Fine arts senior Mary Miller stands with her sculpture, Celestial Tree, that she donated to Highlands. Courtesy/Ali Romero/Media Arts
LAS VEGAS, NM ― An 11-foot-tall steel tree sculpture depicting the total solar eclipse of 2018 is planted firmly in the earth in front of New Mexico Highlands’ Burris Hall, thanks to a donation from a fine arts student.
The university’s Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve fine arts senior Mary Miller’s Celestial Tree sculpture installation in front of the fine arts building.
“Trees are used as a symbol that connects us to the sky as they grow taller,” Miller said. “Celestial Tree is a tree of life in a cosmic form, but the tree is also a symbol of being grounded to earth. The sculpture represents the connection between the universe and the earth.”
Miller said when she witnessed the total solar eclipse Aug. 21, it was a powerful reminder that humans are small and are part of something much grander in the universe.
The 22-year-old from Las Vegas created the sculpture in the university’s fine arts foundry. It was fabricated through a combination of forging, torch cutting and welding steel.
“There’s a central steel pipe in my sculpture that’s the trunk of the tree. There are 10 steel circles I torch cut and painted blue and orange for a cosmic look. I forged hooks to hang the circles from the tree, which is stationery. With sculpture, I love the multidimensional thinking that is used to create pieces,” Miller said.
Miller learned the sculpture techniques from David Lobdell, a fine arts professor who oversees the art foundry and also chairs the Performing and Visual Arts Department at Highlands.
“David does large-scale sculptures himself and encouraged me to think big and believe in my sculpture. David changed my life because I’ve learned everything I know about sculpture techniques from him. He always pushes me outside my comfort zone, which made me a stronger person and artist,” Miller said.
She said Lobdell is a very inspirational mentor because he’s an internationally known artist who takes the time to listen to students inside and outside the classroom.
“David cares a lot about his students. He was with me every step of the way for this Celestial Tree sculpture process,” Miller said.
“Mary Miller is an intelligent and insightful artist who has a vision for what she wants to create,” Lobdell said. “She’s very tenacious with every piece she develops. It’s exciting to have such a beautiful sculpture from one of our students stand in front of Burris Hall.”
Miller said she’s interested in her nature and environment-themed art being accessible to the public.
“I also wanted to give back to New Mexico Highlands to show my appreciation for my professors, friends, and wonderful family who have been a huge support along the way. Being from Las Vegas, I also wanted to give back to the community with my sculpture. It’s a big honor to have my sculpture installed in front of Burris Hall,” Miller said.
This isn’t Miller’s first sculpture to gain recognition. The Western Cast Iron Art Alliance accepted her sculpture, a cast-iron Heron bird, for an exhibition in Granite City, Ill., the first week of October. In May, Miller received a Lorraine Schula Outstanding Art Student scholarship.