ASKED & ANSWERED: James Robb

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 By Steve Thorpe

Legal News
 
The Auburn Hills Campus of Thomas M. Cooley Law School dedicated a life-sized bronze sculpture of the school’s namesake in a ceremony on Wednesday, June 27. Multiple sculptures are intended for the Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor and Tampa Bay campuses, in addition to Auburn Hills. Active in the Republican Party and the antislavery movement before the Civil War, Justice Cooley was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1864 and served until 1885. He also wrote a number of noted law manuals, the most famous of which was “Cooley’s Constitutional Limitations.” He died in 1898 at the age of 74. Associate Dean of Development and Alumni Relations James Robb was one of the Cooley administrators involved in the sculpture project.
 
 
 
Thorpe: What was the genesis of the campus sculpture plan?
 
Robb: Cooley Law School President Don LeDuc is a lover of the arts and he had envisioned having a sculpture of Thomas Cooley at each of our campuses. A couple years ago, two of our faculty members approached him about putting some sculpture at our Grand Rapids campus. They worked out an arrangement by which we had this piece created for each of our campuses with one additional, separate piece in Grand Rapids, all created by the same Michigan artist, Matt Large. 
 
 
 
Thorpe: How was the sculptor selected?
 
Robb: Matt was recommended by our professors Marjorie Gell and Heather Garretson, who knew of his work in Grand Rapids. He presented some ideas to us and the president of the school liked them. Matt works in a traditional, representational style that’s well suited for what we wanted and he spent more than a year on the project.
 
 
 
Thorpe: Did you know in advance that Matt would work in a traditional, representational style?
 
Robb: That was what we expected and what we had hoped. We knew that was his style and the way he liked to do things. We were confident he would come up with a nice piece.
 
 
 
Thorpe: Were there any parameters given to the artist in terms of dimensions, or pose or materials?
 
Robb: There were no parameters given to him whatsoever. We had confidence in Matt that he’d come up with something befitting both the school and Justice Cooley himself. He did a very fine job with that. All we did was simply make sure we saw his idea before he went to the final stage of the process, which we did. Matt did the sculpture in a multi-step process. He prepared a roughly half size model called a ‘maquette’ in clay. We viewed and approved that and then he scaled it up to full size, also in clay, and we looked at that and approved it. Then he went ahead with the casting process. Those were the only stipulations … that we take a look at each major stage.
 
 
 
Thorpe: What age is Judge Cooley as represented in the sculpture?
 
Robb: It’s not intended to be a particular time. Matt says this representation is really an amalgam of Justice Cooley. We provided Matt with photographs of Cooley at different points in time, from when he was a relatively young man until somewhat late in life. Matt took all those images into consideration. He pointed out that Justice Cooley’s looks did not change very much. He even wore his hair and beard in the same style throughout his adult life span, so that made it a bit easier.