Amazing mace

Craftsmen turn 140-year-old piece of wood into college tradition

Some people, including Professor Emeritus of English Dr. Roald Tweet, were skeptical of Augustana College having a mace because of the grandiosity such a symbol might carry. Now that the college has one, the fine craftsmanship of the piece is what everyone is talking about.

A mace was first used as a weapon in medieval times. Today maces symbolize the power and authority vested in the faculties of colleges and universities. They generally are carried only at special academic occasions. At Augustana's commencement ceremonies this past May, the college's mace was carried for the first time by Dr. Randall Hengst, faculty marshal and chair of the Faculty Senate.

Kai Swanson, executive assistant to the president, says having a mace is important for the college because of the symbolism it holds. He describes the mace as the "fine china of the college because it only comes out once a year."

The planning and making of the 5-pound mace took months of preparation. President of the College Steve Bahls started discussing the idea of creating a mace for the college and chose to use wood and copper rather than metal and jewels. Dr. Tweet noted that "copper and wood are more laid-back than jewels," adding that "Augustana is a more laid-back school, and wood accurately displayed this characteristic."

Many maces are manufactured by commercial companies, but Augustana's mace was created by members of the campus community—Dr. Tweet and Dave Apple—and the wood is tied to the college's history.

The fir wood came from a surprising yet perfect source—Augustana's first Old Main. The timber was used in 1875 as a beam in the original Augustana building in Rock Island. When that building was torn down in 1935, some of its beams were salvaged and used in building the bell tower. In 2004, when the bell tower was restored, a portion of the wood that needed to be replaced was put in storage. Dr. Tweet believes the 140-year-old wood adds historical value to the mace.

President Bahls, Dr. Tweet and other individuals planning the mace wanted one that was "uniquely Augustana, something no other college had," and it was Dr. Tweet's idea to have the Old Main dome at the head of the mace. A wood carver for about 70 years, Dr. Tweet carved Old Main's dome on the top of the mace. Dave Apple of Facilities Services, who has "turned" wood for more than 20 years, helped shape the wood and applied the cooper sleeves, which actually are plumbing fittings.

The "turning" of the wood, which involves a lathe, took Apple a couple of hours to complete, and the carving took about four hours. Dr. Tweet made an outline of Old Main from a picture and used small carving knives to make the windows and pillars of Old Main. He had to work around all of the knots in the wood, which proved to be difficult. "The knots were impossible to carve through," he said. 

Everyone involved with the mace is very happy with the final product, but Dr. Tweet said he will never be completely satisfied. He sees splinters in the wood, and he says the windows he carved are uneven because of the knots. "I am not a professional, but an amateur wood carver," he added.

Apple enjoyed being a part of the project because he appreciates any opportunity to be creative, saying, "I was given ideas and had to figure out how to do it." He's proud to have played a role in creating a piece of art for the college that will be around for decades to come.

After being used at only one event thus far, Augustana's mace already has a nickname among faculty: the peppermill. Dr. Tweet said this is a fitting name because "education is a seasoning on your knowledge, especially a liberal arts education."