Richard Mawdsley and Rick Smith

Professor Om Agrawal, recipient of the 2013 Scholar Excellence Award, carries the mace as commencement grand marshal.

May 17, 2013

Skillfully crafted mace reflects SIU's legacy, commitment

The Class of 2013, family members and friends celebrated degrees well earned and futures full of promise during last Saturday’s commencement at the SIU Arena. It was a memorable day for the more than 21,000 people who attended and participated in the three ceremonies.

Traditions are an important part of graduation. Certain words and phrases, the musical selections, the stately processional and recessional, and special touches enhance the ceremony. Last year, we introduced the beautifully bound University Charter, placing it on the stage in honor of SIU’s founding and legacy.

This year, we added a richly decorated mace. SIU now has joined many other universities that include a mace as a reminder of the formality and dignity of the ceremony and the importance of a university education.

Discussions with faculty in our School of Art and Design about creating a mace started more than a year ago. Rick Smith, professor of metalsmithing/blacksmithing, and Richard Mawdsley, professor emeritus of metalsmithing/jewelry, went to work. (That is Richard on the left and Rick on the right in the photo.)

They brought years of experience and their creative genius to the project. Rick, who earned his MFA from SIU in 1992, joined the faculty in 1997. Richard joined the faculty in 1978 and retired in 2004. Both artists have exhibited extensively nationally and internationally.

Rick led the creative team, overseeing the design and construction of the mace, and Richard was responsible for the silver pieces. For inspiration, they initially walked around campus and discussed ways to connect the mace to SIU’s origins. They looked at photos of the original Old Main, which was the oldest building on campus until it burned in 1969.

“We became intrigued with how Old Main looked in the beginning and its role in the development of SIU,” Rick said. “Lots of maces have architectural components, so that fit with the tradition of mace-making.”

The head of the mace has a roof-like design, and arches and architectural shapes inspired other details. Although many maces are wood, ours is made of Damascus steel and weighs in at 16 pounds. It is a very time-consuming process with plenty of unanticipated roadblocks.

“I worked three days a week, probably eight-hour days, all this last semester on it,” he said. “Prior to that, I was investing about half that much time. There’s a lot of tooling you don’t see to push the metals to just the right place. These are labor-intensive processes. At elevated temperatures, the steel develops oxidation, which has to be removed. It was a humbling experience, because we were trying to get metal to do things it just didn’t want to do.”

In addition, SIU’s metalsmithing legacy was never far from his mind.

“We felt we had to do something on par with SIU’s reputation for metalsmithing,” Rick said.

Others in the School of Art and Design contributed their talents as well, including Assistant Professor Sun Kyoung Kim, graduate student Patrick Quinn, undergraduates Timothy Schaeffer and Daniel Widolff, and alumnus Arron Vigart.

Rick is proud of what they created, and for good reason. So am I. The mace is an inspiring reminder of our history, the role SIU plays in the lives of our students and alumni, and the incredible talents of our faculty.