New sculptures made with discarded wooden paddles adorn Southern Oregon University

More than 100 wooden paddles that might have ended up in a landfill have instead been turned into sculptures adorning the Southern Oregon University campus.

"It's public art that uses materials that might have been thrown away and creating something that's fun and playful," said Wyoming-based artist Bland Hoke, who created three sculptures for SOU.

Two are near the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Wightman Street where people walking, biking and driving by can see them, while a third is tucked farther away from the intersection in front of The Hawk Dining Commons building.

On each sculpture, the paddles fan out in the shape of a bird's wing in honor of the red-tail hawk, mascot for SOU's Raider sports teams. 

Made of varnished wood, the multi-colored blonde to dark, rich brown paddles came from Sawyer, a Talent company that makes oars and paddles.

Comfortable seats below the wing shapes were crafted from surplus material provided by Merlin-based SOTAR, a manufacturer of inflatable rafts and kayaks. The seats rotate, merry-go-round style, to provide relaxing entertainment for people who want to interact with the sculptures.

The materials in the sculptures — named "Feathoars" — are an homage to the area's tradition of rafting the Rogue River.

Hoke said he was also inspired by SOU's commitment to the environment.

The dining building and two nearby residence halls opened in the fall of 2013. The halls were built to Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

The three paddle sculptures cost $59,000 and were funded from a portion of the $6.5 million spent on the dining hall. State law requires 1 percent of construction dollars on certain projects to be spent on public art, said Drew Gilliland, SOU director of facilities management and planning.

Another public art installation is coming this fall, he said.

New York City artist Matthew Geller has designed circular landscape features with seating and programmable LED lighting for the campus. That project is budgeted at $165,000 and is funded through the $29 million residence hall project, Gilliland said.

"Art is part of the education process," Gilliland said. "It helps people think outside the box. These should bring color to people's lives."

He said more than 60 artists submitted applications to have public art installed at SOU, with Geller and Hoke eventually winning out.

Hoke, who in addition to being an artist works for a nonprofit that supports public art, said public art pieces can serve as icons for universities and cities.

"It's a great way to celebrate creativity and what that brings to the livability of a place," he said.

Hoke added, "I'm thrilled with the outcome of the project. I'm excited to see how the students interact with it."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.