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Once shunned Strike statue now celebrated

The statue today, standing in the courtyard outside of the Student Union. (Jennifer Courtney)

The “Strike Statue,” tucked away in a corner of the courtyard behind the Student Union, remains mysterious to many students, faculty and staff.

Finished in 1991 by artist and Mills College alumna Roberta Weir, the life-sized bronze sculpture depicts a female form with arms raised in the air. The piece, titled “Power of Woman,” was constructed to commemorate the historic Strike that kept Mills a women’s institution.

“[I had been drawing] female figures for years,” Weir said.

Little did she know those figures would eventually go on to become a symbol of all the Strike stood for.

Weir explained that the idea for the statue came from drawings that protesters adopted to use on banners and signs during the two weeks the campus was shut down.

Weir said she was approached by Linda Routsong, the Senior Class President in 1990, to construct the statue. According to an article in The Weekly dated April 5, 1991, the sculpture was to be a joint gift from the senior classes of 1990 and 1991. At the time, it was the largest statue Weir had ever made.

One of the original sketches of the statue. (Courtesy of Robert Weir)

“The size was daunting,” Weir said. “[But] I volunteered to do it for [the] cost.”

Together, Weir, Routsong and the senior class of 1991 raised about $15,000 for the project and construction began. Although Weir was working on her MFA in creative writing and literature at the time, she traveled to a large studio in Grass Valley, California on the weekends to work on the nearly life-sized enlargements of the sculpture.

The process, which took several months to complete, included sculpting a small clay model and constructing a metal frame over which the life-sized sculpture was shaped. Once the large clay was ready, it was covered in a plaster-like cast to create a mold. The mold was then used to create wax versions of the different parts of the statue, which were later encased in a ceramic shell and heated to melt the wax down. With the wax gone, the vacant ceramic shells were used as the final mold, in which the bronze was poured. After the pieces were welded together, the statue was ready to be put on display.

Weir explained that her emotions went from “panic to exhilaration” prior to installation.

“I know that there was a lot of push back,” Weir said. “At first, the art department refused to recognize this statue as a work of art on the campus, but, in the end, there she is.”

Though Weir said she could not recall the exact date of installation, the statue was up by the end of the spring 1991 semester, according to an article published in The Weekly. Weir did say Board President Warren Hellman turned up to show his support, and those present enjoyed some champagne to celebrate the occasion.

“Although the piece is different from what I might make today with the experience of 20 more years in art, I see her as representing an emergence of raw energy, something I felt on the campus 20 years ago when the Strike began — a display of the students’ power and their triumph,” Weir said.

Weir feels Mills is a very unique environment in which students have the power to influence campus policy.

“The fact that the students were heard and the Board decision reversed is a tribute to the values that Mills manifests every day,” she said. “And as for the board — they listened. That is surely unusual.”

Read more related Strike articles here.