IU South Bend Associate Professor Dora Natella Creates Iconic IU Athletics Sculpture
On June 7th Indiana University commemorated the unveiling of a magnificent new sculpture on the Bloomington campus created by Dora Natella, associate professor of fine arts at IU South Bend.
The 4,830-pound bronze sculpture called the Spirit of Indiana was installed in Miller Plaza on the south end of Memorial Stadium. Sitting atop a circular base that measures 11 feet in diameter and weighs 700 pounds, the new donor-funded art piece features five young student-athletes coming together in a huddle before taking the field of competition. Each of the five students stand approximately 8’ tall and measure, on average, 10’5” to their fingertips.
“It was all very serendipitous,” recalled Natella. After admiring her sculpture Euterpe’s Gift outside the Louise E. Addicott and Yatish J. Joshi Performance Hall while visiting IU South Bend, IU President McRobbie invited her to a meeting. “I went to his Bloomington office to discuss different projects,” she said. However, after a brief discussion, the director of the Eskenazi Museum, David Brenneman, joined them and shared the details of the Spirit of Indiana. Later, McRobbie shared her name with the Spirit of Indiana committee, and eventually, she was chosen to design and create the monument.
With a donation of $48 million from Pat and Michael Miller, the Miller Plaza was created with the intent of adding a sculpture to the space. After multiple proposals and much discussion the committee decided that a large figurative sculpture would best suit the space.
The sculpture’s name reflects Indiana University’s 1925 slogan, “The Spirit of Indiana,” which is about team over self. The huddle depicts the diverse athletes of Indiana University. “The circular configuration of the athletes in the huddle are like the spokes of a wheel,” said Natella. “They create a burst of energy. This piece is about the energy and empowerment that comes from teamwork.”
“Professor Natella is a shining example of the world-class faculty at IU South Bend,” said Chancellor Susan Elrod. “The creativity, talent and skill she brought to the project and the beauty she created are a source of pride for our campus and our region.”
Born in Venezuela to an Italian family and raised in Italy, Natella studied figurative art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Naples and earned her MFA in sculpture at Western Michigan University. She arrived at IU South Bend in 2004 to lead the sculpture program.
The classically trained figurative artist started the project by recruiting five young athletes for models: one football player, one soccer player, an IU South Bend volleyball player, and a baseball player. She was intentional in choosing the athlete-models for the sculpture. “I wanted young diverse athletes, who represented different sports,” she explained. “Athletes have a body shaped to its sport.”
Natella worked with Greg Glasson, who was experienced in producing large pieces, to oversee the production of the Spirit of Indiana. Her studio was a rented warehouse in South Bend.
The sculptor prefers to work with live models, but the pandemic and distance made this more challenging. Nevertheless, Natella was able to use modern photo technology to capture the models’ body interaction from every viewpoint in a variety of poses. “The models travelled to Baltimore to be photographed in multiple poses from all angles over three days,” said Natella. “From photos and direct observation, I modeled the life size figures in clay.”
IU South Bend alumna Morgan Fleming, who was a Titan volleyball student-athlete at the time, was chosen as one of the models. “It was an amazing experience,” said Fleming. “They made foam armatures of our figures from the pictures. And then Dora used clay and her magic hands to sculpt our figures.” Fleming also posed in person, so Natella could create an accurate portrait that captures the muscle tone of her legs and arms, her hair, and her face. “I can’t believe how passionate and good this amazing woman is as a sculptor.”
Once the figures were sculpted in life size clay models, they were digitally scanned and milled eight-foot tall in polyester foam. The foam parts are assembled and coated with clay to reintroduce the details lost in the enlargement process.
As Natella was completing the original figures, mold makers from New York, hired by Glasson, made the rubber molds reinforced with hard plaster exteriors. When the molds were finally finished, they were crated and shipped to the Bollinger Art Foundry in Arizona to be cast.
Natella found it was a challenge not to be able to oversee every part of the process. Natella sent the original sculptures to the foundry and made two trips to Arizona to ensure the sculptures were correct. “It requires a tremendous amount of skilled labor to complete a project of this magnitude.”
Once the molds arrived at the art foundry, a wax replica of the original clay was produced by pouring hot wax inside the molds. Next, the wax sculpture parts were removed from the mold and the wax dressers attached a sort of plumbing system, called a sprue system—made of wax that will allow the melted wax to drain out of the investment and channel the molten metal as it’s poured in.
After the sprue system was attached, the wax was dipped in a compound called ceramic shell to form a heat resistant mold.
When the ceramic shell mold was fired in a kiln, all the wax melted away through the sprue system, leaving a clean investment. Next, molten bronze was poured into the investment mold through the sprue system and the metal took the shape of the original forms. Once the metal cooled the ceramic shell was broken leaving only the bronze parts. The cast bronze parts were then ready to be assembled.
Working with engineers, the foundry determined the best way to ensure the sculpture was stable. They used stainless steel rods inside the artwork to reinforce the figures. “We wanted to make sure the public sculpture could endure people climbing or sitting on it,” she said. “Bronze does not have a lot of tensile strength. I had to plan the pose according to the weight of distribution.”
Natella is grateful people trusted in her ability produce the Spirit of Indiana. “The dynamic interaction of the figures coming together is very exciting,” she said. “It will affect my work in the future. It’ll be more dynamic and less posed and static.”
As she reaches the pinnacle of her career, Natella recalls the struggles and triumphs over the years. However, the Spirit of Indiana represents a victory. It’s the iconic landmark she always hoped to leave behind. “I love the meaning of the sculpture, especially in the time of a pandemic,” she said. “There is no way forward without teamwork. Team over self is necessary in sports and in life.”
To hear and see more about the year-long process creating the Spirit of Indiana, view this video.