Coyote statue unveiled on USD campus

By Travis Gulbrandson

The newest symbol of South Dakota's flagship university was unveiled Friday morning.

Dozens of University of South Dakota alums and current students braved the chilly weather for the first official display of the coyote statue on the lawn east of the Muenster University Center.

The five-foot statue was designed by Cameron Stalheim, a 2010 USD fine arts grad, and was chosen by USD students out of six finalists.

"I can't tell you how proud I am that our very own students created this wonderful work," said university president James Abbott. "Little did we know that when (former Student Government Association president) Tim Carr came up with this idea, we would end up with not only a wonderful … symbol of pride, but also a work by an alum."

Dr. Larry Schou, dean of the USD College of Fine Arts, echoed the president's sentiments.

"This is a very proud day for me, to see a new piece of artwork being unveiled on our campus," he said. "I strongly believe that this statue will continue to confirm the high quality of art that we have produced in our department, and the high-quality faculty we have at the university.

For his part, Stalheim seemed a bit overwhelmed by the proceedings.

"Never in a million years did I envision that I would be standing here before you today," Stalheim said.

Primarily, Stalheim said he saw the competition as an opportunity to practice writing proposals and serve as a creative outlet.

The entry called for a written proposal, résumé, portfolio of artwork and a drawing of what the finished statue would look like, but Stalheim decided to include an additional item – a small model of the statue itself.

It was not an easy process, he said.

"My first attempt at sculpting a coyote looked pretty much like a horse," Stalheim said. "I was absolutely horrified. After hours of researching anatomy, my second attempt looked far more like a canine, but definitely still not coyote enough.

"It turns out, hands down, the most awkwardly-proportioned species within the canine (family) is the coyote," he said.

Stalheim made another model when he was named as one of the finalists, and yet another to address safety concerns when it looked as if he might win.

It took three and a half months to complete the final statue, a process Stalheim called "the most rewarding journey of my life."

The coyote statue project was made possible through the leadership of the Student Government Association and a student philanthropy initiative administered by the USD Foundation.

More than 500 student donors each gave an average of $30 to see the project through to completion.

"What began as an idea to memorialize fallen students morphed into a vision of a new campus tradition that would serve as a lasting symbol of pride and unity for every member of our community," Carr said.

Abbott agreed, saying, "Not everybody thought it would be of necessary importance (but) the fact is, points of pride, symbols of our university, are always important, always necessary and always a great thing to have."

He thanked Carr, Schou, the Coyote Statue Committee and everyone else who helped see the project through.

Current Student Government Association president Alissa VanMeeteren concluded Friday's ceremony by asking the attendees to think about what the statue means.

"Although the purpose of this day was and is to dedicate legacy, I believe it was also designed to inspire each person here to consider the personal legacy that exists within each of their hearts as a result of enrolling in and graduating from the University of South Dakota," she said.

Cameron Stalheim, a 2010 USD fine arts grad, poses with the Coyote statue he created. He unveiled this latest addition to the university campus during a Friday ceremony. (Photo by David Lias)

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