Gannon University has just greeted a new Knight on campus. Unlike other knights, the 800-pound, 8-foot-3-inch-tall knight does not speak, write, or go to class. Oh, it is also made out of clay.
The Golden Knight statue, representing Victor E. Knight, the university’s mascot, was installed at the university’s football field Sept. 18. With the help of its sculptor, Jon Hair, the statue rests on a round pedestal located at the entrance of the field.
The creation of the statue was made possible by the $100,000 donation of Erwin Belk, the retired executive of Belk Stores, the largest privately owned department store in the United States. It is the senior gift of the Class of 2012, which helped raise money for the creation of the pedestal and the statue’s installation costs.
Belk donated academic and athletic facilities to many colleges and universities in North Carolina and Virginia. He has also commissioned numerous sculptures for educational institutions.
Angela Coustillac, graduate assistant for Student Development and Engagement and last year’s Student Government Association president, said she was honored that Belk chose Gannon as the destination of his donation.
The statue serves as a symbol for campus, Coustillac said, one that is made to last for years.
“We chose the knight because he was brave and honorable and I think that’s a symbol for students and for the Erie community on what it means to be a Gannon student,” Coustillac said. “It’s standing there defending our field. It’s a fierce-looking statue.”
She said the statue symbolizes the Gannon students and faculty, as well.
“It represents the athlete in the field grinding at 6 a.m. to make sure he gives his best to his team,” Coustillac said. “It represents the student in the classroom and in the library grinding to make sure they graduate at the top of their class.”
According to Bob Dobiesz, assistant director of the Nash Library, the Gannon Golden Knight is Gannon’s mascot. The first mention of the “Knight” in the Gannon archives appears in 1945, when Dick Buseck, a basketball player and an accounting major, wrote an article in the Gannon Mansion referencing “Knights around Gannon.”
Gannon University selected the Knight to be its mascot because of the qualities associated with knighthood such as loyalty, nobility, honor and courage. These qualities are ones the Gannon community strives to acquire.
The senior class gift has been a tradition at Gannon for many years, Coustillac said. Its purpose is to show appreciation for the university’s efforts to educate its students.
The senior class of 2012 raised $1,404.86, according to Britt Dyer Daehnke, director of the Annual Fund for Academic Excellence.
Coustillac said the class launched several fundraisers to collect money for the project, particularly for the cost of the pedestal, which was contracted to an outside company.
“I think it’s important for the senior class to give back every year,” Coustillac said. “It is important to show that you care about the community when you leave and to say, ‘We’re not gonna forget you, we appreciate everything you’ve done for us.’”
Hair sculpted the statue in pieces, which were later shipped to Erie. The project took about a year from initial discussions to the installation of the final piece.
“I’m just proud to have a piece at Gannon and I hope it brings a lot of joy to the fans and alumni here,” he said.
Since the beginning of his sculpting career in 2000, he has fulfilled more than 80 major public art commissions, 30 of which he created for American colleges. Hair won six national and international competitions and has sculpted portraits of celebrities such as Dick Van Dyke and media mogul Ted Turner.
Hair said the statue, made of clay and cast with bronze, will withstand the dire weather conditions it may be subjected to in Erie. If the statue is cleaned and waxed twice a year, it will last for 2,000 to 3,000 years.
“They’ve actually pulled bronzes out of the Mediterranean that were older than that and you can still see thumb prints in the bronze, so it’s a very durable material,” Hair said.
Hair said that the statue will not rust, but might oxidize and turn green or black.
The statue will be dedicated during homecoming weekend, which also happens to be Alumni Weekend, on Oct. 4.