When Laura Walker ’05 M’17 became the head of Ocala, Florida’s cultural arts and sciences division, she set out to commission a large-scale public art piece to complement the city’s World War II-era Marion Theatre. The result—a 40-foot long ode to the Sunshine State’s cinematic past now adorning the building’s exterior—is more than a work of art. It’s a metal and steel symbol of collaboration, featuring USI from the opening scene to the closing credits.
The artist search, which involved candidates from across the country, eventually led Walker back to her alma mater and her former sculpture instructor, David Huebner. “You want to be able to pick someone who has that skill set, who’s worked in that scale, who’s provided projects that meet that same level of expertise,” she says of the selection process.
USI’s longtime art studio supervisor had the experience, but knew he’d need help perfecting the largest project he’d ever undertaken and tapped Ben Sutter ’09, his former student, to help. A sculpture artist based in Lafayette, Indiana, he was up for the challenge and the nine-hour, roundtrip commute. “It was neat to come back after 10 years and work in the studio,” says Sutter. “That’s where I learned a lot of things that I still use today in making sculpture.”
The pair spent months fine-tuning their design, a film strip featuring iconic images of Florida movies and culture looping between two reels. Just selecting the scenes to fill the film’s frames took weeks. Modifying them to flow and fit properly was even more complicated. “It was a daunting task,” says Huebner.
(Left to right: Ben Sutter '09, Laura Walker '05 M'17, Frank Canova IV, Pamela Zeljak and Dave Huebner)
Over the course of a dozen trips from Lafayette to Evansville, and with the assistance of several additional Screaming Eagles, Retro Reel slowly took shape. Shea Stanley ’94 transformed Huebner and Sutter’s analog drawings into digital images. Students in the Applied Engineering Center (AEC) used a water jet to cut the sculpture’s framework, and a local business produced the film strip’s intricate interior sections. “It was so large, just moving it around took hours,” says Sutter.
In July 2019, two years after Walker’s initial phone call, Huebner and Sutter loaded up their powder coated puzzle pieces and made the 700-mile journey to Ocala for installation. “We never saw it all together until it was on the wall [of Marion Theatre] in Florida,” Huebner says. “It’s one thing to put it together in the studio, but it’s another thing to actually have it up in its environment,” adds Sutter.
“It truly is a part of you that’s up there.”
Though moviegoers in Florida may not realize the many connections their sculpture has to the University of Southern Indiana, Sutter and Huebner are proud of the layered partnership that left a large, lasting mark in Ocala. “I’m honored and grateful,” Huebner says. “It was a huge learning process. There were a lot of firsts.”