UT Austin Gets New Entrance To The Forty Acres

The University of Texas is about to welcome a new entrance to the forty acres. The growing campus hasn't had much of an official entry point for years, but this weekend that changes.

This is the angle, families want to frame. The Littlefield Fountain in the shadow of the UT Tower. For years it was the edge of campus and a symbolic entrance to the University of Texas at Austin. But as the university grew, the fountain lost its geographical significance.

"It's nice to have an entrance," said UT Austin President Bill Powers.

Powers is wrapping up a lot of business before he leaves office on June 2 and that includes making the university more welcoming.

"There ought to be something that signifies you're coming on to the campus, a bit of a gateway," said Powers.

An official entrance that's set in stone.

"It takes a long time to carve stone," said Austin artisan Matthew Johnson. "The part that I'm doing with the hammer is the first step."

Johnson is chipping away at 11 feet of Cordova cream limestone that was quarried in Central Texas.

"This is the first time this font has actually been carved into stone," said Johnson, owner of {A title="Bartlett Stone " href="" target=_blank data-mce-href=""}Bartlett Stone Carving in southeast Austin.

It's loud, dusty and excruciatingly detailed work.

"The "t" is easier. It's two lines intersecting. The "h" gets a little more complicated," said Johnson. "The "e" which I've started, but there's quite a bit of work left to do."

Just six words with 28 letters, but a lasting monument to a storied university and more than 600,000{}graduates.

"If I didn't like how it was turning out I would be having a crisis," said the artisan. "There will be literally thousands of photographs taken with this carving. So, yes, there's some pressure. I want to do it right, just a little bit."

For Johnson that means getting into the groove and finding a rhythm that's taken 20 years to develop.

"Almost like this Tai Chi sort of thing where you're really just moving gracefully and slowly," said Johnson.

And not being paralyzed by the quest for perfection.

"I could go three or four hours, keep looking at problems. But eventually you've just got to accept that it's natural," said Johnson.

Each letter will be sanded almost an inch into the Texas stone. Then, the stone carver has to let go.

"Can't wait to see it. It's going to be nice," said Johnson.

At the intersection of MLK and University Avenue on the southern edge of campus, the limestone lettering finds its home.

"Seems like a long time," said project manager Frauke Bartels. "It's almost a 20 year history of making something like this happen for the UT campus. This opportunity, this photo opportunity, doesn't present itself very often with this grand arrival and view."

It's a long-awaited entrance, in place for the class of 2015 to make it part of their exit.

The University Avenue Gateway Entrance opens Saturday, May 23, just as a full weekend of UT Austin commencement ceremonies get underway. The second phase of construction, which includes a granite threshold, UT Seals and landscaping, will be completed later this summer.

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