Woman’s College Tribute: A beautiful ‘communal space’

Posted on April 28, 2023

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“WC” was known as the nation’s top public college for women. Its far-reaching legacy was on full display at the April 22 ribbon-cutting for the Woman’s College Tribute at Stone Building Lawn.

Betsy Oakley ’69, chair of the UNC Greensboro Board of Trustees, provided opening remarks.

“The WC alumnae were bold pioneers who embraced the educational opportunities they were given – and they worked for them,” she said. “They were trailblazers. They had exceeded expectations in every way just to be here. WC graduates have made an enormous impact on our region, our state, our nation, and, indeed, the world.”

She noted that today’s UNCG shares the same key mission of “Service” and the same commitment to both access and excellence. “The University would not be what it is today had it not been for the hard work and dedication that was characterized by WC and its outstanding alumnae. Today, with this tribute, we celebrate their legacy while also honoring the role the University has played – and continues to play – in transforming students, families, and communities.”

Sculptor Michael Stutz, with landscape artist James Dinh at his side and brick mason Michael McKinness nearby, spoke next – the public work of art directly behind them. The three-tiered brick walls (with all brickwork laid by McKinness) were designed to hold seasonal flowers. Stutz noted, “Conceptually, the three garland walls relate to when they used to make daisy garlands here on campus.” 

Spaced between the bricks are image panels derived from Woman’s College-era “Pine Needles” yearbooks. Altogether, it is envisioned as a space to gather, to relax, perhaps to reflect.

“‘Astera’ is from the Latin word Asteraceae, which is the (plant) family in which daisies are,” Stutz said, adding that the daisy has long been this campus’ flower. “Also ‘Astera’ means ‘star.'” 

The sculpture is made out of woven strips of bronze, he explained. “It’s very strong, but it’s also very open. And this sculpture has a certain idea about expressiveness. It’s not specific to any one particular person. There are openings within it. I hope that gives the viewer a chance to make their own determination about what they’re seeing.

“And it’s also two spaces. You’ll notice when you go up and look at it, there’s the exterior space, which is our public face – and there’s an inside space. You can actually go inside the sculpture, look out through her eyes. And in many ways, that’s sort of like establishing an identity, which is what students and alumni do here at the college. They figure out who they are. They figure out their own vision.”

He also noted that Dinh early on said, “It offers a truly democratic space that invites everyone to honor and reflect on the legacy of Woman’s College by weaving together and juxtaposing images, words, symbols, and place specific materials and forms. The public artwork celebrates and pays tribute to Woman’s College and its alumnae. And it links past and present and connects it to the future.” 

Ribbon-cutting, l-r, Beth Fischer, Betsy Oakley, James Dinh, Kurt Melvin, Sarah Shoffner, Emmy Mills, Michael Stutz, Molly Brake, Agnes Price, Geraldine Fox

Beth Fischer, vice chancellor for Advancement, encouraged all WC Tribute Project Committee members (recently deceased Jo Safrit received special mention) to come up and be a part of the ribbon-cutting, along with the artist/design team and officials.

Soon after, visitors surveyed the “Pine Needles” visuals, and a few even stepped onto the pedestal to take in the unique view.

As a plaque nearby states, “Students, staff, faculty, alumni, and visitors who stand behind Astera see through her eyes the campus that has changed thousands of lives.”

See the list of donors to this project.
See the WC Tribute committee members and additional information.

By Mike Harris ’93 MA, Advancement Communications
Photography by Sean Norona ’12, University Communications
Video by David Lee Row ’09, ’16 MFA, University Communications

Drone footage by Grant Evan Gilliard

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