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UT Austin welcomes official entrance to campus

UT Austin gets a new official gateway to campus on the south side of the forty acres. (KEYE TV)

The University of Texas at Austin is welcoming a new entrance to the forty acres. The growing campus hasn't had an official gateway for years, but the south side of UT is now its formal entryway.

The Littlefield Fountain in the shadow of the UT Tower is the angle many families want to frame in their photos. For years that picturesque spot was the edge of campus and a symbolic entrance to UT. But as the university grew the fountain lost its geographical significance. It's still one of UT's top photo spots, but by the time students are standing there they are well onto campus. So former UT President Bill Powers put plans into motion to make the university more welcoming. He wanted a passage point, an official entrance that would be set in stone.

"It takes a long time to carve stone," said 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.

"This is the first time this font has actually been carved into stone," said the owner and principal designer and carver at Bartlett Stone Company.

It's loud, dusty and excruciatingly detailed work. "The "t" is easier. It's two lines intersecting," said Johnson. "The "h" gets a little more complicated. 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. 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," Johnson said laughing.

For this Austin stone carver that means getting into the groove and finding a rhythm that's taken 20 years to develop. "Almost like this a 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 the artisan from his Southeast Austin studio.

Each letter will be sanded almost an inch into the Texas stone and then Johnson has to let go. "I can't wait to see it. It's going to be nice," said Johnson.

At the intersection of MLK and University Avenue the limestone lettering finds its home. "Seems like a long time," said UT project manager Frauke Bartels.

Bartels knows it's been a long creative process. "Almost a 20 year history of making something like this happen for the UT campus," said Bartels.

It's easy to see the difference the entrance makes looking at before and after video of the Littlefield Fountain and the UT Tower. "This opportunity, this photo opportunity, doesn't present itself very often with this grand arrival and view," said Bartels.

It's a long-awaited entrance that is now carved into the UT landscape.

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