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Light Fixtures Connect Nature and Tradition with the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center

April 4, 2014
Flower-shaped light fixture
The Gateway Center’s light fixtures are hand-crafted by a Buffalo-based metalsmith company, Frontier Ironworks. (UW Foundation)

The Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, a one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art welcoming center for the University of Wyoming, will incorporate many distinctive features, including light fixtures that are handcrafted by the Buffalo-based metalsmith company Frontier Ironworks.

“My team at Frontier Ironworks is excited to do things in our home state so, of course, we are happy that we can be a part of the process from start to finish and see the final completion,” says owner Chris George. “Most times, we do not see the final installation. So, having this in our backyard, so to speak, gives us a special incentive to complete this project with the highest quality and efficiency.”

The design team wanted to find a way to connect the natural elements of Wyoming to the interior of the building. The brown-eyed Susan flower, which is native to southeastern Wyoming, was chosen as the model because, in 1895, the first UW alumni banquet was held with these flowers as part of the decorations. The alumni liked the colors so much they became the official school colors.

After receiving the initial concept, George and his crew collaborated with fellow Wyoming blacksmith and designer J.T. Craft to develop the design into functional lights for the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center.

“The whole thing has been broken down and recreated several times,” says George, “which is usually the case with any custom fixture, especially one of this size. We typically plan on building something about three times before we get it perfectly balanced, lighted evenly and fully functioning.”

In the event hall, there will be eight light fixtures modeled after the brown-eyed Susan. They will be some of the largest fixtures George and his crew have constructed, measuring 12 feet in diameter. There also will be four of these fixtures in the president’s room that will be 4 feet in diameter.

The chandelier fixtures will have three tiers of petals. The frame will be constructed of iron, and the diffuser material is mica, a mineral that naturally occurs in Wyoming.

In addition to the large chandeliers, custom-made wall sconces will be placed in the president’s room and the ballroom. These are 48 inches long and 10 inches wide with the traditional bucking horse symbol in the middle.

The bucking horse named Steamboat, like the brown-eyed Susan, is a UW and state icon. His image defines and embodies the untamable spirit of the state and the university. He represents the toughness, pride and independence of Wyoming, its people and its animals.

George, who has lived in Wyoming for the past 18 years, says, “It is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived.”

The family-owned and operated company was established more than 20 years ago in Oklahoma by George and his two brothers. The business then moved to Wyoming because of the access to natural resources, majestic landscapes and quality of life.

“We could do our occupation anywhere in the United States, but we figured, ‘Why not enjoy the place you live in while you go to work?’” says George.

Eight people are involved with this project, six of whom are full-time employees. From start to finish, most custom fixture projects take six months to complete. The fabrication shop for these works of art consists of a wide array of tools -- Victorian blacksmith tools up to modern computer-controlled equipment.

Being asked to create the fixtures for the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center was a huge honor for the company, George says.

“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime project,” he says, “because Wyoming is definitely my home and I don’t foresee my kids going to any other school than the University of Wyoming. So, it leaves a little bit of a legacy.”

Frontier Ironworks’ creations have been featured in major publications, including Better Homes and Gardens, and they have won multiple awards for their designs. The company has created custom features for clients all over the United States.

Scheduled to open next fall, the Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center is a remarkable statement regarding the impact of private fundraising on Wyoming’s university. It is funded completely through private support, including a $10 million commitment from Marian H. Rochelle to name the center and a $6 million commitment from Mick and Susie McMurry through the McMurry Foundation to name the center’s two most prominent visitors’ spaces: the McMurry Foundation Grand Atrium and the McMurry Foundation UW Legacy Hall.

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