ECU uses ancient symbol in graduation ceremony
(Apr. 21, 1994)
With the approach of East Carolina University’s spring graduation on May 7, a staff member at ECU’s Joyner Library gently unlocks a display case and applies a dab of metal polish to the school’s treasured ceremonial mace.
A light buffing with a soft cloth puts sparkle and shine into this contemporary and decorative rendition of a medieval battle axe. If the sky is clear on commencement day, sunlight will flash from its silver flanges. Even if the day is cloudy, the mace’s focal point—a purple fluorite crystal—will emit a soft fluorescent glow.
Carried proudly at the front of the march of dignitaries and graduates, this 12 pound, 43 inch column of silver, gold and stone is an object that demands attention. It is a thing of beauty — a work of art.
Named the Trustees Mace, the art piece was designed and crafted 15 years ago by a member of the faculty of the ECU School of Art. It is an almost universal symbol of high office and authority and is the traditional and colorful centerpiece for ECU graduation ceremonies and other formal functions.
In ancient times, medieval knights depended on the mace as a combat weapon. In close-quarters fighting it was superior to the sword because its spiked head could rip through chain mail and plates of armor.
Later, royalty adopted the mace as an emblem and embellished it with decorations with a crown most often mounted at the top. Today, the mace is a ceremonial symbol for governmental bodies, for major cities, and for many colleges and universities.
ECU commissioned the construction of its mace just prior to the Oct. 28, 1978 installation of Thomas Brewer, a former chancellor. Historian Henry Ferrell of ECU said the Trustees Mace was one of the first symbolic objects to become an ECU tradition. Members of ECU’s Board of Trustees paid for the materials and handiwork.
John Satterfield, an ECU artisan and goldsmith, was chosen to design and craft the mace because of his outstanding reputation in fashioning decorative metals. He had produced beautiful pieces of jewelry for art exhibits in the United States and in Europe. One of his creations, a chalice, had been bought by the Smithsonian Institution.
The artist spent weeks researching the history and symbolism of the mace and then meticulously planned his design and construction.
The sterling silver came from Mexico. It was purchased just before the cost of silver skyrocketed.
“We got it at a very good price,” recalls Ferrell, who directed the installation ceremony at which the mace was displayed. Within weeks after purchasing the silver, Ferrell said the metal quadrupled in value.
The worth of the mace today would be hard to estimate. Silver is a little over $5 an once and gold is about $375 an once. But the real value of the piece, according to Ferrell, is that it is an original art piece designed especially for ECU. There is no other mace like it in existence.
Part of the reason for its originality is that the artist wanted a crystal as the focal point for the piece. Satterfield searched long and hard to find just the right stone and finally discovered a baseball-sized fluorite crystal in a rock and gem shop at Spruce Pine, N.C. It was a perfect match to his design.
The finished product, Satterfield says, maintains the look of a traditional mace while serving as a unique symbol for East Carolina University.
For example, he says “the flanges are symbolic of a group of individual