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March 31, 2017 — How do you appropriately honor the first black man to graduate from Oregon State? An individual so determined to succeed that he slept in a basement just so he'd have a place to live? An engineer who went on to design bridges and highways and to teach his craft to countless students?
Something small would not be appropriate.
Enter “Tulip for Tebeau.”
The massive new interactive sculpture rises from the lawn outside the OSU residence hall that’s also named for William “Bill” Tebeau. It’s 32 feet tall, made of four tons of shining steel plus half an ounce of gold leaf, and packed with symbolic power.
Designed by Portland artist Pete Beeman, Tulip for Tebeau has soaring steel legs and six curving, gold-tipped, petal-like fins. A hand-turned crank at the base beckons to passersby. When a user grips the handle and turns, the 20-foot-tall petals atop the sculpture begin to move. Slowly at first, then visibly moving with every person-powered circuit, opening up to the sun.
The sculpture is purposefully situated so that the crank is accessible to everyone, no matter their mobility level, and the structural elements—supports, beams, sprockets and gearbox—are all laid bare for users to admire. Students pass it day in and day out, a constant reminder of Bill Tebeau and his passions: engineering and teaching.
“We couldn’t be happier that our residents have the opportunity to live within proximity to hands-on, original artwork designed with students in mind,” said Patrick Robinson, director of facilities, maintenance and construction for University Housing & Dining Services.
Visitors can find the sculpture along S.W. 14th Street, between Adams and Washington Avenues on the east end of the OSU campus.
“Tulip for Tebeau” is the latest addition to the university’s collection of public art. It was commissioned through the Oregon Art Commission’s Percent for Art in Public Places, a program that requires all new state buildings with a budget of more than $100,000 to set aside least 1 percent of the construction budget for public art.
Tebeau, the first African-American male to graduate from Oregon State University, had a 36-year career as a civil engineer and teacher. Tebeau Hall, completed in 2014, is also named for him.
Oregon residents may recognize artist Beeman’s work from “Pod,” a kinetic sculpture on West Burnside Avenue in Portland. A Portland native, Beeman now splits his time between Portland and New York City, and his art can be found in public installations around the world.