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Around the Columns

Crouching Tiger, hidden dogwood

Chris Morrey

Chris Morrey, MFA '09, works on the wax mold that will be used to form a 200-pound bronze tiger statue. Photo by Nicholas Benner

The MU Student Center’s bronze tiger sculpture will represent more than Mizzou pride. The 11-foot piece, weighing nearly 200 pounds, also has a more nuanced message about environmentalism as well as the merging of local and international traditions.

Chris Morrey, MFA ’09, of Columbia pulled these thematic threads together by shaping bronze branches of dogwood flowers into a tiger that assumes a pose borrowed from Chinese paintings. It’s the symbolism — an Asian tiger made from the blossoms of Missouri’s state tree — that helped Morrey win an $8,000 commission for Dogwood Tiger, which will be installed on the wall above the Student Center’s main level fireplace.

His sculpture resulted from the MU Unions Arts Council’s first public art project, which attracted 17 student and alumni proposals. A committee selected four finalists, and student votes determined the winner.

“This building is very Mizzou, very tiger-y, so I think it will really fit well,” says Joe Hayes, assistant director of Missouri Student Unions. “But also the dogwood flowers, its symbolism and the connection made a lot of sense to the people who walked by and read Chris’ proposal.”

Morrey sees his piece as a nod to the diverse campus and as a reminder of nature’s delicate cycle. He began touching on the latter theme while working on his thesis, which consisted of three dogs made of plants. In April 2010, he won another public art commission to create two bronze Great Danes for the third floor of Columbia City Hall. Both dogs, made of celandine poppies, will gaze up at a bronze bird, hanging from the ceiling.

“I’ve always thought a lot about dogs,” Morrey says. “They have such an old, complicated relationship with us. They sort of provide this other viewpoint.”

Morrey says he hadn’t done much bronze work before coming to Mizzou. Once he saw the art department’s equipment and foundry, he tried the durable, but expensive, medium.

“I made things I never imagined I could build before,” Morrey says.

Two student interns — Greg Orloff, junior art major from St. Charles, Mo., and Tina Cook, senior art major from Grandview, Mo. — are helping Morrey complete Dogwood Tiger, which will be installed during the spring 2011 semester.