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Dayton Sculptor Earns Place on Walk of Fame

By Casey Harner

Sculptor Robert C. Koepnick (1907–1995), recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Dayton in 1995, will be inducted into the Dayton Walk of Fame on Sept. 27. He joins an ever growing list of Daytonians recognized in the Wright-Dunbar Historic District for their contributions to the community and the world. With this celebration of Koepnick’s life, a look through the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections shines a light on a man who encapsulated the Dayton spirit of creativity, invention and service.

Head of the sculpture department at the Dayton Art Institute for over 30 years, Koepnick founded the Dayton Society of Painters and Sculptors in 1938; the organization remains in existence today as the Dayton Society of Artists, providing art education, exhibition opportunities and professional development to artists of all levels.

During World War II, Koepnick took leave from the Dayton Art Institute to serve five years at the Aero-Medical Laboratory at Wright Field (now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base), where he provided design consultation on items such as oxygen supply masks for aviators (source:  Memorandum Report on Demand Oxygen Mask, 12 February 1943, Box 5, Folder 9, Robert C. Koepnick papers, University of Dayton Archives).

The Montgomery County Fairgrounds, the Dayton Metro Library, and the Dayton Public Schools feature his sculptural and architectural works, as do libraries, churches and other public buildings across the United States.

Koepnick brought Catholic imagery and iconography into the 20th century with flat, chiseled features cast in bronze and aluminum. Secular works such as Huck Finn (on display at the Dayton Art Institute), Johnny Appleseed, and sculptures at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds and the Montgomery County Courts building are contemporary with elongated figures and abstracted designs.

Koepnick’s interdisciplinary approach to fine arts, engineering and faith left a lasting visual impact on the Dayton area.

After Koepnick’s family donated his archival papers and many of his sculptural studies to the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, the University assembled the exhibition “Art for Citizens and Celebrants: The Sculpture of Robert C. Koepnick” March 16–Sept. 7, 2014 (view the online exhibit here). Read more about Koepnick and view photos of him, his family and his works in the exhibition catalog. You can also view the press release promoting the exhibit.

To explore Koepnick’s papers in the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, email Kristina Schulz, University archivist, or call 937-229-4256.

— Casey Harner was a student intern in the University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections in the summer of 2018; she is an undergraduate at Kenyon College.

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