(UPDATE: Virginia Tech officials dedicated the sculpture on June 30. The sculpture now stands outside the entrance of the College of Natural Resources’Cheatham Hall on the Blacksburg Campus. For full story, visit The News Leader .)
April 16, 2007. Unspeakable tragedy gripped the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and shocked people all over the world.
In a span of several hours, a student at the university killed 32 students and faculty and wounded many others before taking his own life.
Saddened by what transpired, a West Virginia University Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry and Consumer Sciences professor created a memorial sculpture for the Virginia Tech community.
Transylvania native Levente Denes, a visiting associate professor in WVU s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, was a research associate at WVU in 2007 and couldnt believe what happened that day.
Frankly, I was shocked,he said.I couldnt imagine how this could happen at an educational institute. I did know about Columbine, but when I heard about the shootings at Virginia Tech, I began thinking about how I could express my feelings.
Denes immediately thought about creating akopjafa,a large carved, wooden monument symbolizing respect, affection, honor and remembrance with historical ties to his home region of Translyvania. Translated in English,kopjafameansjousting pole.
The monuments, according to some historians, were brought to the Carpathian Basin, now known as Hungary, by the Magyars when they conquered the area in 896 A.D. Even after Transylvania was ceded to Romania, the region maintained its Hungarian roots and folk art, and there are approximately 1.5 million Hungarians residing there today.
Originally, these posts were used instead of gravestones in cemeteries,Denes explained.In the last 20-25 years, however, people began to carve and place columns on interesting sites like battlefields or even for heroes as a kind of monument.
In his mind, carving akopjafawas the perfect way to pay homage to those who lost their lives at Virginia Tech.
These columns generally have no inscription,Denes said.Instead, the carvings denote every important detail about the deceased, such as blood relation, age, sex, marital and social statuses, occupation and cause of death.
Since this was a memorial sculpture for all of the victims, Denes chose to carve geometrical symbols like stars and crosses, both symbols of death and rebirth in many cultures, as well as the logos for WVU and the Faculty of Wood Sciences, University of West Hungary.
Hand-chiseled from white oak and stained the color of honey, the structure stands at 14.5 feet, weighs approximately 600 pounds and took almost 200 hours to create.
I took a carving course in high school, but it had been years since Id carved something,he said.This is the biggest carving Ive ever created.
Joe McNeel, director of the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, said the memorial is an expression of concern and sympathy felt by faculty and staff at WVU .
The sculpture is massive, earthy, complex in its form, highly traditional in theme and to some extent, almost religious in appearance,McNeel said.I believe that it will be well received by the folks at Tech and the citizens of Blacksburg. We are very proud of Dr. Denesaccomplishment in creating this memorial and hope that we can bring our two universities even closer together.
The sculpture will be installed in front of Cheatham Hall, the forestry and natural resources building on Virginia Techs campus, with plans being made for an unveiling ceremony in June.
In April 2008, the Division of Forestry and Natural Resources planted a Shumard oak on the grounds of WVU s Student Recreation Center to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech tragedy. Bartlett Tree Experts furnished a plaque to mark the tree and recognize the strong ties between WVU and Virginia Tech.