UTRGV students put heart and soul into designing ceremonial mace for new university

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – DEC. 14, 2015 – Five students, all art majors at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, were on the committee selected to design a ceremonial mace for their new university.

Vilma Flores, Jackie Maldonado, Samantha Rawls, Gloria Reyes and Mark Treviño in March began the long process of creating a unique mace for UTRGV.

“We all took this responsibility seriously,” Treviño said. “It’s very meaningful to know this effort will result in a lasting contribution to UTRGV as it moves forward.”

A mace, originally a weapon of warfare, today symbolizes the university’s governing authority and signifies that the proceedings have official sanction. Traditionally, the chair of the Faculty Senate carries the mace to lead the academic procession at commencement and other special ceremonies.

“This was a wonderful and exhilarating experience,” Flores said. “I’m extremely grateful that we were given the opportunity to design something of such importance for UTRGV, our new university.”

The students, equipped with sketchbooks and laptops, convened regularly to confer with a faculty committee spearheaded by Professors Carlos Gomez and Donna Sweigart, from the School of Art. The faculty advisory group included professors from diverse disciplines – anthropology, archeology, geology, history and communications – to guide the students on their creative journey.

“We wanted to tell the story of this region – we wanted this to be symbolic of the Rio Grande Valley and its rich history and traditions,” Treviño said.

The students knew they wanted to create a distinctive shape and design that could be appreciated up close as well as from afar.

“We made physical models to try and understand proportions and weight,” Reyes said. “A lot of consideration went into the size and design. The design had to be suitable for any body type and frame.”

The students also wanted the mace to be built of native materials.

Among the faculty committee was a geologist, Dr. Juan Gonzalez, associate professor in the Environmental and Earth Sciences Program, College of Sciences, who guided the students’ selection of petrified palm and El Sauz Chert.

“During the Oligocene Period, about 27 million years ago, a massive volcanic eruption produced a large ash fall that encased the palm trees, and in time they became petrified,” Gonzalez said. “Petrified palm is the official rock of Texas, and the students agreed it would be appropriate to use in the mace.”

Gonzalez explained El Sauz Chert is unique to the Rio Grande Valley.

“The only outcrop of this chert is in Starr County. That quarry was mined by stone-toolmakers in South Texas and Northern Mexico as far back as 8,000 years ago,” Gonzalez said.

Wayne Locke of Locke Design & Woodworks in Austin, Texas, crafted the mace.

“I appreciate the students’ desire to use native materials in their design,” Locke said.

One specification – ebony wood – posed some problems.

“I understand it is a common tree in South Texas. But after some trial and error with some native ebony, I kept encountering cracks and it became clear that it just wasn't going to work,” Locke said. “We changed to mesquite, a good replacement, I think, as it also is a native tree.”

Locke said it is rare that a piece is constructed exactly to original specifications.

“Key to any artistic project is maintaining the integrity of the original design,” he said. “Anything made by hand has its own characteristics."

Sweigart said the students dedicated themselves for more than six months to designing the new mace.

“This was not just a service-learning project,” she said. “Rather, it was a tremendous responsibility that these students accepted, knowing this effort was to be a lasting image of the new university.

“The mace itself is full of symbolism, and the act of its creation is symbolic, too. It demonstrates that meaningful tradition is created through student participation,” Sweigart said.

All five student designers said they are eager to see and hold the finished product – the result of innumerable sketches and Treviño’s computer design skills.

“It was an experience that we’re all very proud to have been a part of,” Reyes said. This is on my list of proud moments – to be part of such a talented group of people.”


The head of UTRGV’s 47-inch mace is of petrified palm surrounded by six textured gold-leaf prongs that represent palm tree trunks. The design in gold leaf across the head represents palm fronds.

The new UTRGV seal is mounted on the second of the seven distinct portions of the mace. Each portion is delineated by a ring of gold leaf.

The hand grips are native Texas mesquite. The top one is engraved with patterns of wind turbines to proclaim the energy of the Valley, its residents, and give a nod to the future. The bottom hand grip is engraved with turtles, to include the university’s coastal presence while signifying a reverence for native wildlife.

Between the hand grips, a carved petrified palm helix represents the coming together of the legacy institutions – The University of Texas at Brownsville / Texas Southmost College and The University of Texas Pan American.

The base is made of mesquite inlaid with a ribbon of variegated blue resin outlined in brass to represent the Rio Grande. The seventh, and bottom, portion of the mace is made of El Sauz Chert.


UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications

Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations