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Despite death of beloved granite artist, USAO to move forward and complete "Coming Together Park"

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
Dr. Michael Nealeigh is the project manager for Coming Together Park at USAO in Chickasha. This torn piece of granite was the last thing Jesus Moroles had worked on before his death in June.
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CHICKASHA, Okla. – When granite sculptor Jesus Moroles took on the job of creating and installing a massive granite-art project on the campus of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, here in Chickasha, no one knew it would be his final creation.

In mid-June, Moroles, 65, was driving back to Chickasha, from his art studio in Rockport, Texas, when he was killed in an accident on Interstate 35, north of Georgetown, Texas.

Jesus Moroles, a granite artist from Rockport, Texas, talks to Red Dirt Report during an interview in May 2015. He died in a car accident in June. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Due to changes in staff at USAO, Red Dirt Report only found out about Moroles’ death via local media reports and not from the university officials. This was just a few weeks after Red Dirt Report had interviewed Moroles for our story "Granite sculptor Jesus Moroles helps USAO students, campus 'come together.'"

Moroles was a very friendly, affable person. Very humble. Everyone we talked to agreed about Moroles' personal characteristics. He was also the premier granite sculptor in the world, with granite sculptures large and small placed in museums, public places and private homes around the globe.

Leafing through his hefty coffee table book, Moroles Granite Sculpture, you start to get an idea of the size and scope of his work and why he was the most sought-after granite sculptor alive. 

And now he was dead and his project in Chickasha was unfinished. What now, we wondered?

Wanting to find out more about the status of the “Coming Together Park,” located at the heart of campus activity, wedged between 17th Street, Sparks Hall and the USAO Student Center, Red Dirt Report drove to the USAO campus to talk to Dr. Michael Nealeigh. In addition to being the vice-president for University Advancement and project manager of the Moroles-led, artistic endeavor, he was also a good friend of Moroles.

“It is a great tragedy,” Nealeigh said. “It is a great loss. He was an amazing man. A great man.”

Here in Nealeigh’s office, he shows Red Dirt Report a “torn piece of granite,” which was in the process of being polished and made into an art piece. It was the last piece of art Moroles was working on before his death. The rough granite, Nealeigh said, was "alive," as Moroles put it, and the polished granite was "dead." Moroles was very tuned into the natural world.

“When I asked him how much it would be worth when it was done, he said ’35 or 45.’ I said dollars? And he replied, ‘No, $35 or $45,000.’”


The drawing of Coming Together Park, which Moroles created, shows the details of where crushed and cobbled granite would go, where the granite mosaic, rings and arroyos would go and where artwork and light poles would go. It was very detailed and will be completed.

“We are continuing with the project,” Nealeigh said, noting that the USAO students who worked with Moroles in late spring would be doing what they could to finish the project, along with a crew of artists who worked with Moroles back in Texas.

“It is a little more difficult now, but it will be completed to every degree possible without Jesus involved,” Nealeigh said, adding, “Everything is in place but not yet finished.”

And the name? Coming Together Park?

"It's all about a 'coming together' of ideas, of students, of the community," noted Nealeigh. 

One of the completed granite tree rings, designed by the late granite artist Jesus Moroles for USAO's Coming Together Park. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

Originally, over the late spring and early summer, there had been 24 students and two faculty members helping out with cutting, crafting and placing the granite pieces planned for Coming Together Park. Moroles had scheduled to have it completed by early August. That was not to be.

Nealeigh said that upon learning of Moroles’ death, 25 students showed up the next day and helped out with the granite cutting, grinding and placing in the park setting, which features crushed gravel, granite circles around the park’s trees and granite-bottomed arroyos snaking their way through the park.

“It was quite profound,” Nealeigh said of the outpouring of help from students.

The granite comes from a quarry in Marble Falls, Texas and there is also granite from the foundation of a house from someone who was connected to the college.

Dr. Michael Nealeigh holds a piece of granite, signed by Jesus Moroles and intended as a gift for an upcoming community event. (Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report)

“Jesus felt that art should be functional,” Nealeigh said, noting that Moroles’ work was not political.

“And (USAO’s) president is very keen on public art,” added Nealeigh.

Walking around Coming Together Park (it was quiet because the fall semester had not yet started), Nealeigh explained the importance of the porous gravel (to allow water to seep through and water the trees) and how the arroyos, which allow water to flow, would probably be empty "99 percent of the time," he said. The rest of the time, they can be used as pathways for students.

Other areas will feature nice, granite benches. Everything is crafted with the natural environment in mind.  When it is done it will be a true, artistic jewel on the USAO campus. 

"(Coming Together Park) would be great in Washington, D.C. or on the campus of an Ivy League school," Nealeigh said. "But (Moroles) chose to put it here. 

Red Dirt Report will continue to follow this story, on the development of Coming Together Park. 

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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