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21Country: Ceremonial mace to be debuted by its maker at PFW graduation

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - Purdue University Fort Wayne is debuting its new, and very own, ceremonial mace for its latest batch of graduates.

It’s not a barbaric weapon, but rather a symbol of leadership, still used today.

For example, the U.S. House of Representatives has used the same ceremonial mace before session, since 1841 - it sits next to the House Speaker.

Other places the relic is used, is before college graduations, often carried by university leadership.

But in Fort Wayne, graduates of the former IPFW had always had to borrow a traveling mace for graduations, either from parent universities IU and Purdue.

When Purdue University Fort Wayne became its own entity, its chancellor decided it was time for the college to create a historic artifact of their own, to hopefully be used, for the next century.

They didn’t have to go far for the talent and knowledge to craft such a piece.

“Every artist hopes for a little bit of immortality. That’s why you make stuff, and that’s what this is,” Bob Schroeder joked, “I think if it lasts for a long time, great! I’ve had a wonderful experience making it.”

Schroeder has taught various arts at the Purdue Fort Wayne campus since 1994.

Currently, he instructs students on metalsmithing.

“I was approached by the Vice Chancellor’s office about, would I be interested, and able, to work with them to create a design that would represent this campus,” he explained.

And in the summer of 2019, a few months before the pandemic, Schroeder would begin the lengthy design process, before even thinking about materials.

“What’s notable about this campus?” he would often talk about with the committee organized to bring the mace to fruition, “the collection of mastodon bones that were discovered on a farm near here in the 1950’s… and it’s a very complete skeleton, are very significant for this university. So, we though we could work with that. The bones became the sort of, main motif.”

After several rough drafts, life-size sketches that still hang in Schroeder’s classroom, a design was selected.

Each component has a significant meaning.

The flame and dish it sits in, made of brass and plated in gold, represents learning, and the university’s pool of knowledge.

Tulip leaves embossed in the copper vase, and the Tulip lightwood used throughout the mace, pay homage to Indiana’s state tree.

The cube’s four sides hold 3D images of the seal of Purdue University, as well as Indiana and Fort Wayne’s flags.

One side remains blank - once Purdue Fort Wayne designs a university seal for the local campus, it will be placed there.

Three segments of black walnut wood represent the city’s three rivers.

The bronze mastodon collars represent the remains found in Angola in 1968 - those bones are kept at the university.

Lastly, the bronze globe base represents PFW’s reach across the world.

Inside, is a nut that secures the entire mace together.

Though Schroeder did all metalwork on the piece, his colleague Dana Goodman helped craft all the woodwork.

“I did a lot of research actually, on maces that were created,” Schroeder told us, “I tried to find out how they came to be in the United States.”

He described how much thought went into creating a flame, that comes to life under the right light.

“When you have a spotlight hitting this from above, this highly polished and gold-plated… inside of this concave shape, reflects the light back onto this flame,” he said excitedly, “and it actually makes the metal flame appear to be flickering.”

The flame was also cut from a single piece of hand hammered brass, that took weeks to perfect.

“You only had one shot at it, and if it didn’t look right, you were stuck, because you didn’t have any time to redo it,” he shared, “but it did look great!”

The ceremonial mace was initially planned to first be used for the graduating class of 2020.

But when the pandemic hit, Schroeder couldn’t get to his work, or studio on campus for four months.

Though the piece was crafted for PFW’s top leadership to carry, Bob Schroeder, as its maker, will have the honor of using it first at the university’s graduation.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, really… and I know my parents, who are no longer with us, would be pretty amazed with all this,” he said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to be recognized that you can do something that uses your craft, and skills to create something that’s a lasting legacy for the institution, for the ideas about what you believe in, and for you.”

1,392 PFW students are graduating June 18, between two ceremonies at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

Those begin at noon and 7 p.m. 

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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