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University of Mobile president, trustee create ‘I Am the Vine’ metal sculpturecomment (0)

March 11, 2009

By University of Mobile

Each time the two men approached the metal cross with their welding torch, they prayed. Then the hot hiss of flame searing steel would break the silence, shaping delicate leaves and melding clinging vines to the cross.

For Mark Foley and Jim Daniel, the physical labor was much more than a break from the desk-bound stresses of being a university president or the CEO of a metal fabrication firm whose creations grace the Smithsonian. It was a way to share their faith and create a place for quiet reflection at the University of Mobile (UM).

On March 9, with a prayer dedicating the art to God, an “amen,” followed by a shout of “let’s put it up!”, a crane raised the 12-foot piece of structural art and placed it atop a concrete pedestal on the college campus.

“I wanted us to have a visual representation of our place as a faith-based university, a piece of structural art that immediately says, ‘this place is of Christ,’” said Foley, who has served as president of the 1,641-student school since 1998.

The piece, titled “I Am the Vine,” is a much larger version of a 14-inch metal sculpture Foley fashioned in 2006 in his garage workshop for his wife, Marilyn. Both pieces depict a crown of thorns hanging from the top of the cross, with steel vines growing from the cross stained with splashes of red representing Christ’s blood.

The depiction is based on the scriptural reference in John 15, verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Foley has used a blowtorch and tools he inherited from his father and father-in-law to create desktop-sized works of art for a dozen years. Then, during a speaking engagement at Deerfoot Baptist Church in Trussville, in Birmingham Baptist Association he met church member Jim Daniel.

Daniel is the third generation to head Daniel Metals Inc., a Birmingham-based national leader in the steel fabrication business. With a main facility two-and-a-half football fields long and 150 feet wide, Daniel had the space – and the experienced workers – to expand on Foley’s original artwork. And, he recognized in Foley a man with a talent and a love for working with metal.

But there was a catch.

“I wanted us to build it together,” Foley said. “It was important to me that this piece had the deep meaning of being handcrafted by men who share the belief that life, abundance, peace, joy, love and all the virtues of our faith come from the awful experience of Christ on the cross.”

The project began in July 2008, with the university president stopping by the plant on his way to and from speaking engagements and meetings. As the cross grew, so did the friendship between the two men. In January 2009, Daniel joined the university’s board of trustees.

The sculpture will stand surrounded by a rock garden designed by Dr. Bill Dumas, a Mobile radiologist who became close friends with Foley through a Wednesday morning men’s Bible study.

Gifts from Jim and Helen Daniel, and Bill and Mary Day Dumas, funded the project.

The site will be dedicated at noon April 27, with a plaque dedicating the piece “to those who courageously follow Christ and to those who will learn to follow Him through the influence of the University of Mobile.”

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