Virginia Tech officials today dedicated a wooden sculpture from West Virginia University honoring those who lost their lives in the April 16, 2007, tragedy. The carved monument stands outside the entrance of the College of Natural Resources' Cheatham Hall on the Blacksburg campus.
Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger and Mike Kelly, dean of the College of Natural Resources, received the memorial from West Virginia Senior Associate Provost Russell K. Dean; Joe McNeel, Division of Forestry and Natural Resources director; Davis College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Consumer Sciences Dean Cameron Hackney; sculptor Levente Denes; and Laszlo Jereb, dean of the Faculty of Wood Sciences, and Laszlo Bejo, associate dean, both of the University of West Hungary.
Patterned after traditional Hungarian memorials, the 14.5-foot high, 600-pound wooden sculpture was created in idea and form by Denes, who is a visiting associate professor of forestry at West Virginia University from the University of West Hungary. After the April 16 tragedy at Virginia Tech, he was moved to design a tribute that would symbolize the life of each student and faculty member who died at the hands of a gunman.
He drew from the Transylvanian heritage in Hungary and his expertise in wood. Some historians believe the wooden sculpture art form came from the Magyars, a tribe of people who lived between the Baltic Sea and Russia’s Ural Mountains and moved into Turkey and Iran before raiding in 896 A.D. a region that once belonged to Hungary known as Transylvania (now part of Romania). In the Middle Ages the word “kopjafa” was applied to a broken jousting pole used as a headmarker over the grave of its dead warrior; today the carved wooden pole has come to mean a commemorative public memorial honoring heroes and battlefields.
Kopjafas generally have no inscriptions — letting the design speak about the deceased. Denes spent more than 200 hours hand-carving the wooden column that symbolizes respect, affection, honor, and remembrance. He chiseled the white oak with geometrical symbols; the falling star signifies death, the crosses stand for sacrifice and patriotism, and the star on the top of the column represents distinguished bravery. The logos for Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, and the University of West Hungary are also carved on the monument.
At the beginning of the project, Denes contacted colleagues in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources, which has departments of forestry and wood science and forest products. As the project advanced, however, it evolved from a college to a university gift as a memorial to those who lost their lives and those whose lives were altered by the April 16 tragedy. The College of Natural Resources went through the university’s review system required by the Commemorative Tributes Committee and the Visual Arts Policy Committee.