Rev. Austin Collins, C.S.C., was a senior at Notre Dame when he took the first and only art class of his undergraduate career. Four decades later, three of his sculptures are displayed in South Bend at the roundabouts on Chippewa Avenue, Marion Street and Bartlett Street.
“I’m very thankful and honored,” Collins said. “Having three of [the sculptures] together shows the intersection of other cities, like a crossroads of cities in the area.”
Collins began studying art seriously at the University of California, Berkeley while pursuing a master of divinity. Upon graduating from Berkeley, he earned a master of fine arts from Claremont Graduate University in 1985. He has taught in the art department at Notre Dame ever since.
Last year, the city of South Bend asked Collins if he would loan them several pieces to display for at least a year. He accepted and carefully chose three pieces. “Wedding Cakes,” the sculpture at Marion Street, is Collins’ way of “taking an iconic American symbol of a wedding cake and abstracting it and blowing it up.” There are four different parts to the sculpture painted white, green, black and pink.
“Temple Carousel” is a piece previously commissioned by the city in 1998, inspired by a city a trip to Haiti. The Chippewa Avenue sculpture has “a bright loudness to it,” Collins said.
The third sculpture, “Fern Temple VI,” is a vibrant lime green is meant to “show the new life of South Bend,” including new technology, ecofriendly transportation and collaboration with Notre Dame. It is located at the Bartlett Street roundabout.
As a priest, his faith is central to all of his work.
“Faith influences everything in one’s life, so it influences art. And I think my art influences my faith in that it helps me reflect,” Collins said. “The wedding cakes are playful, but they still reflect a sacrament; they still reflect a covenant that’s very important.”
Collins’ work has been featured in more than 100 exhibitions across the country and has been shown in dozens of private and public collections. These roundabouts, however, offer a 360-degree view of his artwork.
“I hope it doesn’t cause any accidents,” he said with a nervous laugh.