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UC Unveils Bas-Relief Sculpture to Honor Neil Armstrong

The UC community got its first glimpse at a new artwork that will be installed inside Rhodes Hall. The Neil Armstrong bas-relief was revealed as part of the opening of the Armstrong exhibit and Space Act Agreement signing with NASA.

Date: 11/6/2013 1:00:00 PM
By: John Bach
Phone: (513) 556-5224
Photos By: Dottie Stover

UC ingot  
This Neil Armstrong bas-relief by local artist John Leon will be installed permanently inside Rhodes Hall. The photo was taken by UC alumnus Ralph Spitzen.
This Neil Armstrong bas-relief by local artist John Leon will be installed permanently inside Rhodes Hall. The photo used for the artwork was taken by UC alumnus Ralph Spitzen in 1974 inside UC's Armory Fieldhouse.

A life-size bas-relief and plaque depicting Neil Armstrong will soon welcome University of Cincinnati students, faculty and others who enter Rhodes Hall.

World renowned astronaut Neil Armstrong taught at the University of Cincinnati from 1971 to 1979 and passed through the entrance of Rhodes Hall on his way to his office each morning.

The artwork is one of the elements in a multi-pronged effort at UC to honor the life of Armstrong, who died in August 2012. The plaque will be on display in a special on-campus exhibit titled “Neil Armstrong: The Life and Flight of a Reluctant Hero.” It will be installed in Rhodes Hall early in 2014.

The exhibit — designed by the UC Architect’s Office/Planning + Design + Construction — runs through Nov. 27 in UC’s Philip M. Meyers Jr. Memorial Gallery in the Steger Student Life Center, and also features artifacts donated to UC by the Armstrong family, including a space mask, plaques awarded to Armstrong and a lunar log book. The free exhibit will be open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Also featured in the exhibit is a special commemorative website created by UC Libraries/Archives to honor Armstrong.

The multi-dimensional gypsum-composite relief shows Neil Armstrong folding a paper airplane inside UC’s Armory Fieldhouse. It  was sculpted by local artist John Leon. The piece also includes a reprint of the New York Times coverage of Armstrong’s first steps onto the lunar surface. The plaque is a gift of the class of 2013.

“As a sculptor, it is just really cool to have work that is linked to something so much bigger and greater than yourself,” said Leon, who also attended UC in the 1970s. “Neil Armstrong is a major figure whose name is known all over the world.”

The image Leon used for the relief was photographed by one of Armstrong’s former UC engineering students, Ralph Spitzen.

Spitzen happened to be snapping pictures for his aero engineering club in 1974 when Neil Armstrong made a surprise appearance. Armstrong stopped by to try his hand at the paper airplane contest that UC's student chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics hosted every year. The contest, in the Armory Fieldhouse that year, had simple rules: Fold your best plane, step up to the rail and launch it across the gym.

"Because of the variety of his flight experiences, he was able to relate different engineering problems and help us appreciate the translation of concepts into the real world," says Spitzen, Eng '74, MBA '76, who took four classes with Armstrong.

So how did the famous astronaut's designs fly? We'll never know. "He chose not to test-fly them," Spitzen recalls. "I was in the right place at the right time to capture a photo of Armstrong doing something you wouldn't expect an individual like him to be doing. It shows you that he was as down to earth as any of the rest of us."