A glowing, curious object sits above the fireplace in the corner of the Grebel’s dining room. Its oranges, blues, and greens call from across the space, inviting closer inspection of the whimsical and intricate arrangement of shapes.
In late July, the kinetic sculpture We Are All Engines of Joy created by Grebel alumnus James Paterson (BFA 1981) was installed at the College. “It’s a happy piece of celebration, for all of us here going forward and out into the world,” Jim explained as he turned the main wheel of the sculpture.
The idea for the new artwork first began in a conversation between Jim and Director of Operations Paul Penner at an art show in Ottawa. “We got talking about how empty of students the College had been during the COVID pandemic and the hope that it would soon all be over,” Paul shared. “I began to think that it would be neat to have a touchstone to both signal and celebrate our coming out of this season, something that would be joyful and bring hope.” Soon after, Grebel commissioned a sculpture to become the centrepiece of a new lounge area in the updated Grebel dining room.
Jim looked to summon a sense of colour and positivity to the familiar Grebel space, taking inspiration from the iconic stained glass windows designed by Nancy Lou Patterson. Nancy was a mentor to Jim during his Fine Arts studies. “She always encouraged me to be myself, to be human and not give in.” Nancy Lou Patterson founded the Fine Arts Department at UWaterloo, which continues today as a vibrant visual arts program.
We Are All Engines of Joy unites a variety of symbols representing pieces of Grebel’s past and present. Its main structure—made from twisted steel wire and vivid resin—consists of large, moving circles representing the six faculties at the University of Waterloo. Each wheel moves in unison when the main wheel is turned by hand. Some motifs, such as the little spirals and a familiar peaked roof, are more subtle. A nod to Grebel’s musical connections is included with piano keys and the neck of a stringed instrument, alongside ploughshares at the base of the sculpture. Windmills, which further represent Mennonite agricultural history are driven by the six circles. Together, the piece becomes reminiscent of a whimsical engine, blown forward by the flag-like sails, which, as Jim described, “suggest the wind of the Spirit enlivening us all and blowing us forward out into the world.”
“My hope is that people who see this art piece will come away with an infusion of joy and delight. That they will be reminded there are mysteries in life worth probing, inner journeys of discovery worth taking, and deep resonant rhythms sounding around us that we must listen carefully for if we are to hear them and be awakened to the redemptive nature of God in creation,” explained Jim. “I want people who see my art to reclaim a childlike sense of wonder as they go forward believing that one day all things will be made new again.”
The re-imagined lounge space features couches and chairs with small tables, designed for comfortable study sessions and relaxing with friends by the fireplace. The intention is to bring back the feeling of gathering in the old Lower Lounge space that many alumni remember. This new space was made possible by the continued generosity of Grebel alumni. Thirty alumni donors from Jim’s era donated $19,288 toward this project, with additional funds coming from the Fill the Table campaign and Student Council.
Students have been enthusiastically using the lounge to gather since its completion, whether to catch up on readings before class or meet before heading out to campus. Among the hustle and bustle of Grebel’s life, the bright, whimsical engine will undoubtedly invite attention and interaction by everyone passing by.