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CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — In a culmination of steel, aluminum and fire, the Special Olympics will celebrate its 2014 games by lighting a cauldron crafted by University of Northern Iowa artists.

The June 14 opening ceremonies in New Jersey will feature an interactive cauldron — the equivalent of the Olympic torch — designed by Dan Perry, an instructor and the art department’s shop technician, and assembled by two UNI students. Thousands of spectators will witness its unveiling at the event featuring almost 3,500 athletes competing in 16 team and individual sports.

“From an artistic standpoint, especially for (the students), it’s a great experience because something they made will be seen by 30,000 to 40,000 people at once,” Perry said.

This is the third cauldron the university’s art department has made for the Special Olympics. Perry received mock-up drawings for the desired design but had the heavy task of making it reality.

Each of the six curved metal spires representing the Special Olympics logo are detachable. Perry chose light-weight aluminum so they could be carried by coaches and athletes from the stadium entrances.

“It’s actually a nice thought,” Perry said. "They’re helping build the torch in a way. It resembles that collaborative spirit."

Once attached, LED lights will glow through each arm, and globes at the base resemble heads of athletes hoisting the cauldron, which will hold an actual flame at the ceremony. The final piece stands 13 feet tall and weighs approximately 650 pounds once assembled.

Sophomore Dallas Guffey and Tommy Riefe, a recent graduate, have been working full time for the past three weeks fastening, shaping and experimenting with each piece at the university’s Department of Art’s Public Art Incubator. The incubator is a space that students and professional artists can use to do large-scale sculptures or even commission University of Northern Iowa artists to build their designs.

“It gives students the experience of what it’s like to be a professional artist,” Perry said of the project. “If they’re getting paid by the hour on a deadline, they know they have this many hours to get it done on a budget to make a profit.”

Riefe wants to pursue public art as a career.

“It is very convenient that right after graduation I’ve got a full-time job doing art and gaining a lot of experience,” Riefe said.

Guffey is learning how to work with metals from Riefe and Perry’s expertise.

“You always have the opportunity to do large-scale stuff here. Plus they have the supplies to do it,” Guffey said.

“It really does a disservice to students if they graduate with an art degree without any idea of how to use it in a way that they can earn a living,” Perry said. “You can be an artist and have a career.”

Bow and Arrow Productions, a production company based in Adel that works closely with the Special Olympics, has created a short documentary on the making of the cauldron, which Perry hopes will be aired sometime during the opening ceremonies.

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