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"Helping Hands" is a new sculpture created by Northwest student Elizabeth Herrick. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

"Helping Hands" is a new sculpture created by Northwest student Elizabeth Herrick. (Photos by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Sept. 29, 2021

New sculpture inspires conversations about diversity, mental health


A new interactive sculpture on the Northwest Missouri State University campus highlights the role people share in building connections and uplifting others while raising awareness of mental illness.

Wellness Services staff during a brief ceremony Tuesday afternoon unveiled the art installation, which is the creation of Elizabeth Herrick, a senior art education major from Wallingford, Iowa. Titled “Helping Hands,” the installation occupies a 13-by-13-foot space adjacent to Centennial Garden and features dozens of hands reaching from the ground in a variety of universally known gestures, including signs of peace, love, the high five and pinky promise.

“Helping Hands” features dozens of hands reaching from the ground in a variety of universally known gestures.

“Helping Hands” features dozens of hands reaching from the ground in a variety of universally known gestures.

The hands are made of stained concrete and reach as high as 2 feet at the center of the installation, where they are more clustered. As the grouping of hands spirals outward, they are spaced farther apart and become shorter. Their colors range from a warm rust to a cooler espresso brown, and they represent multiple genders. Viewers are encouraged to walk through the artwork.

“The piece itself is supposed to represent a psychological phenomenon of in-group heterogeneity and outgroup homogeneity,” Herrick said. “This is a psychological phenomenon that we all experience when engaging in social interactions. The piece is created to promote both conversation and develop a greater understanding regarding how minority groups experience many negative stereotypes, biases and prejudices. Though the minority community has experienced strong adversity, their internal relationships help uplift each other to achieve ascension from labels.”

Elizabeth Herrick completed the art installation as her senior art project under the advisement of Thomas LaPann, an assistant professor of art in Northwest’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Elizabeth Herrick completed the art installation as her senior art project under the advisement of Thomas LaPann, an assistant professor of art in Northwest’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

Support for the project was provided through the Garrett Lee Smith Campus Suicide Prevention Grant Program, a three-year grant award Northwest that received in 2018 and also funds the University’s Hope 4 All program.

“One of the things that I love about art is that it evokes some kind of emotion; it evokes some level of thought to how it impacts and affects you,” Chris Dawe, Northwest’s assistant vice president of student affairs for health and well-being, said. “When I first saw this going in, I was like, ‘Can we crowd surf?’ And the more I thought about that, the more I thought, you know, that’s actually a pretty good analogy for what we’re trying to say.”

In addition to its representation of diversity, Dawe noted the sculpture carries a message that connection and support are critical in creating healthy communities.  

“If you were to go do some crowd surfing, having some fun at a concert and there weren’t hands there to support you, that would not be a very successful experience. I think that’s exactly the kind of message that this can send.”

Northwest art faculty and students initially conceived a different idea for the sculpture in early 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted and eventually shelved the project. Last spring, Herrick took on the project, presenting a reimagined concept that she brought to fruition through more than 300 hours work with advisement from Thomas LaPann, an assistant professor of art in Northwest’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

“Hopefully it will bring a sense of belongingness to Northwest for all students,” Herrick said. “I found Northwest to be my dream school, and I believe that giving this representation will promote the same feeling for future alumni.”


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704