A Rising Phoenix is Professor’s Swan Song

Phoenix Rising being lifted to ring

Phoenix Rising being lifted to ring

Describing why students in his landscape design studio design and create bamboo sculptures each semester, horticultural science Professor Will Hooker recently said,  “The reason I have the students build the sculptures is that the majors in the class are in a design/build curriculum, and I’ve wanted them to have a building experience as part of their education.”

This past October, as Hooker prepared to retire at the end of fall semester after 34 years in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, he led his students in one more such experience — crafting an appropriately avian-themed sculpture as the swan song project under Hooker’s direction.

“Phoenix Rising” is the bamboo creation taking wing majestically in front of the new home of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design. The museum, moved from the old Talley Student Center, is being reborn, like a phoenix from its ashes, in the building that was once the Chancellor’s Residence on Hillsborough Street.

Hooker’s students assembled the piece at Kilgore Hall, home of the CALS Department of Horticultural Science, before transporting it to the Gregg, where a bucket truck was used to hoist the piece in the air and hang it by cable from a high tree limb. Once installed, the orange, red, blue and yellow phoenix soared skyward as its vibrantly trailing tail swirled down and appeared to loop around the walk leading to the Gregg.

The original design of the phoenix was done by student Michelle Ye, with fellow student Ben Jones designing the archway created by the tail.

Hooker also shared feedback he received from the class about what they learned during the creation of the phoenix. And, certainly, their comments indicate that they had the kind of building experience he intended.

One student reported that among the important lessons he learned during the project were “translating a concept into drawings that help people understand its construction, organization and communication — how to let people know what needs to be done when you’re not there to explain it; where to compromise complexity of the details for speed; always remembering to take a step back and think about the big picture; having faith that it can be done and keeping your team motivated.”

Another told Hooker that “having never worked with bamboo, at the designing phase of the project I was like, ‘This is impossible to make.’ But it all came together so quickly and smoothly. I’m so glad to have had other people there who were familiar with the material who helped make decisions with me on what to make first, what techniques to use, etc. It was definitely challenge after challenge, but I think it ended up really helping me grow personally, because, with the tight deadline, I had to make decisions and go forward.”

Meanwhile, a third student said, “I always get too critical about things I could have done better. But this project is something that I can really be happy with because we all came together and made it happen. It’s definitely one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Thank you for helping out and giving me advice!”

Previous studio sculptures, each more whimsical and/or complex than the last, have been installed by Hooker’s students at the JC Raulston Arboretum, the N.C. State Fairgrounds, local elementary schools and numerous regional gardens and public areas.

And in assessing this, his last bamboo creation as professor, Hooker said something that really applies to each — and to his time at N.C. State: “It all came along beautifully.”

– Terri Leith

Watch the Phoenix Rise!

Participants in building the sculpture:

Class members:

Michelle Ye               Ben Jones                  Mercy Rognstad
Leena McDonald      Charles Parrish III       Katherine Hoke
Dorian Perez             Will Edwards             Ken Jackson
Brandon DuPree       Austin Roland            Anisley Mumford
Nathyn Levin             Jay Pulley


Kate VanVorst          Lauren Kapustick     Rocio Arguijo
Yovania Veeren        Wilfred Goli              Sasha Ghofrani
Anne Spafford          Julie Sherk               Emily Kleinhenz
Michael Edwards     Justin Durango         Christian Britt
Regan Hale              Vann Fussell             Paula Gordon
Griffin Foster            Ryan Hirtz                 Madison Savage
Jason Massey         Jessica Mayo            Sean D’Sonza
Jeana Myers           Eli Hooker                  Justin Maness
Adam Williams        Chris Williams            Robert Bradley
Mark Davin             Rodney Jones