Eight current and former students reimagine a historic UI symbol
Thursday, September 15, 2016

When Sam Watkins was asked to reimagine the University of Iowa seal, he focused on the centerpiece of the symbol: a hawk.  

“How did the hawk become the UI mascot?” wondered Watkins, a Cedar Rapids native who graduated from the UI in May with a bachelor’s degree in art and graphic design.

His colorful interpretation of the seal, infused with hues reminiscent of Native American artwork, reflects what he discovered—the term “Hawkeye” came, in part, from the name of the protagonist in James Fenimore Cooper’s best-selling novel The Last of the Mohicans.

“I chose to represent my hawk with colors to represent the diversity of the UI today,” he says.

Watkins is among eight former and current students asked to redesign the historic UI seal in a way that reflects their experiences as Hawkeyes and to convey what the university means to them.

One piece from each artist will be framed and on display from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16, at Hancher Auditorium during the Presidential Program and Reception honoring UI President Bruce Harreld. The designs also will appear on a poster handed out during the event, which is the culmination of the UI’s Week of Inspiration and Harreld’s official welcome as the university’s 21st president.

“(These artists’) diverse reinterpretations of our historic seal reflect the unique experience of each UI student and show how our vibrant campus continues to grow and change,” says Linda Snetselaar, professor of epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health, associate provost of outreach and engagement, and member of the Week of Inspiration planning committee.

The artists were given little direction, except that each piece must measure 24 inches by 24 inches and showcase what the university means to them, says Erin Fitzgerald, assistant director of art and design for Student Life Marketing + Design.

“We wanted to allow student artists an opportunity to reflect on their personal experiences at the university within their seal art and showcase what the university means to them,” she says. “We also wanted to bring to life our vibrant campus by re-imagining a historic seal and reflecting on the diverse energy and continued growth of the university as a whole.”  

Fitzgerald recruited the artists and narrowed their submissions to the top 16 pieces.

“These final works of art illustrated the vast range of artistic ability at the university,” she says. “I wanted to highlight some wonderful hand illustration work, amazing digital creations, and also honor mixed media and painting.”

Kate Gylten, a sophomore from North Liberty who is pursuing a degree in art and enterprise leadership, also turned her focus to the hawk in her creation, but with a more realistic representation. She built dimension into her version of the seal by incorporating acrylics, watercolor, tissue paper, and spray paint.

“I like to repurpose materials in my artwork,” says Gylten, who aspires to open an art gallery centered on sustainability and art about the environment.

Fitzgerald says each student will receive a framed copy of their art to thank them for their time and creativity. Eventually, she says, the reimagined seals could become part of Hawkeye history.

“I hope down the road these works of art can find a permanent home on campus and be featured in a creative way,” she says.