Texas Tech University began its current Public Art Program in 1998 by setting aside one percent of the estimated total cost of each new major capital project on campus. To this point, the total investment has increased to over $9 million. Currently, the university has six projects that are pending which would increase that total amount to over $11 million. Projects include architectural enhancements such as murals or mosaics as well as purchased and site-specific sculpture. The collection of art includes many regional and nationally recognized artists including James Watkins, Steve Teeters, Terry Allen, Jesus Morales, Deborah Butterfield, Barbara Grygutis, Joe O’ Connell and Blessing Hancock.
The most recent addition was a sculpture by the late Robert Bruno installed in late January outside of the architecture building. Born in Los Angeles in 1945, he lived in Mexico before moving to Lubbock as an architecture professor at Texas Tech. His famous design, the “Steel House” or “Metal Mansion” was created in Ransom Canyon, just 15 minutes east of Lubbock. The steel sculpture recently installed was the inspiration for the house and was built in 1974. Bruno was known as a bold innovator. In addition to the sculpture and house, he also started a company, P & R Surge Systems, to sell his solar-powered “fertigation” system for crops in the sparse fields of West Texas, enabling him to work on the house and other ideas.
The house took over 35 years to construct. Bruno was able to live in the personalized space before he passed away in 2008. It remains a private residence today. In a land that is extremely flat and austere, he was able to create the 110-ton steel anomaly with sweeping curves that seem to defy gravity as floor, ceiling and walls begin to merge. The addition of stained-glass windows created by the artist magnifies the West Texas sunlight in the distended space for a truly unique experience. Such an organic form could only conceived of by a visionary through the passing of time, honest labor and an intelligence of the hand. Bruno was known to tear down and replace sections of the house as he felt fit over the years it took to finish.
Considering the local significance and history of the “Steel House” and the preceding sculptural form is a great addition to the University and Lubbock. The steel sculpture had sat on a trailer in a cotton field for over 35 years south of Lubbock before being purchased by Texas Tech. In an age of R. Buckminster Fuller and region with Paolo Soleri, Bruno’s ambitions were great, though it seemed to be the actual work that pleased him. The addition of the sculpture will no doubt increase the innovative side of the region and University while honoring Bruno’s legacy.
The steel sculpture’s official dedication will be on April 20th, 2015 and open to the public. It is located on the corner of 18th Street and Flint Avenue in Lubbock, Texas.
By Jake Weigel