Celebrate This Day

The art of Koch Commons

Art and faith enrich students’ lives, said speakers at the Nov. 15, 2001, blessing of the sculpture reliefs, fountain and the Chapel of the Redeemer in Koch Commons.

"A vision of how we are, how we would like to be and what it means to be part of a community" is how Dr. Mark Stansbury O’Donnell defined the art commissioned for sculptor Michael Price. Koch Commons, built in 1998 through the generosity of Barbara and David Koch ’52, links three residence halls on the St. Paul campus and includes a fitness center, a computer lab, a chapel, a fireplace lounge and other student amenities.

Price’s completed work was installed in August 2001 shortly after his death. It was funded by gifts from the Opus Corp., the Aquinas Foundation and Millennium Committee.

Price, who created St. Thomas’ statue of its founder, John Ireland, was a well-known sculptor in Minnesota (F. Scott Fitzgerald at the St. Paul’s Fitzgerald theater is his work) and in Chicago, California and Pennsylvania.

Bronze reliefs, Bible passages and a fountain

The artwork at Koch Commons includes three components. The first is four bronze reliefs drawn from Biblical stories and passages: Jacob and Laban; Ruth and Boaz; Marriage at Cana; and Matthew 25: 31-46, particularly giving drink to the thirsty.

The second is a central fountain featuring motifs from the four reliefs — stone, grain, grapes, water. The grapes and grain are Eucharistic symbols, and water is Baptismal.

Third are passages from the Bible lining the soffits of the central hallway.

Price, known as a thoughtful and scholarly artist, identified four themes that summarized university values and actions: celebration, respect, service and faith and the Biblical passages that serve as the subject matter for bronze reliefs explore these themes.

The distinctive physical motifs found in the different stories — stone, water, wine/grape, grain — became the concept for a still life with fountain that would unite the reliefs and texts. The fountain is also meant to reflect the elements of the sacraments.

Finally, Price chose Biblical phrases and paraphrases to line the soffits of the ceiling to serve as a reminder of how members of the university community are called to treat others, whether the other is neighbor or stranger.

The clay models of the reliefs were completed in the spring of 2000 and the bronze poured into them to make the final reliefs during the summer of 2000. Price became ill during the fall 2000, and was diagnosed with cancer in January 2001. A local sculptor and former student, Debborah Richert, assisted with finishing the bronze casts. Price’s sketch for the design of the fountain was developed and engineered by Richard Dubbels, St. Thomas Physical Plant.

Price died in May 2001. He is survived by his two children and wife, Susan Price, a well-known gardening writer who works in St. Thomas’ O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center. The final completion and installation of the Koch project was undertaken by Richert and Dubbels, following Price’s plan.

University of St. Thomas Magazine