Totems and Steles: Art for the Ages

     In the spring of this year, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts installed Rubin Peacock‘s  “Fantasy Stele” in its Sculpture Garden, the first by a Virginia artist. But this piece has a history going back to 1978.  That year, Rubin was in Pietrasanta, Italy working on a commissioned bronze for the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, VA.
      During that nine-month stay, Rubin worked on other commissions.  From these open-ended invitations to explore his creativity, Rubin created the first seven-inch model for what evolved into the VMFA piece.   Rubin created numerous variations of this sculpture not only in bronze but in stone.  Henrietta Near saw one of the maquettes and commissioned a larger piece in memory of her husband, Pinkney, the revered first curator of the VMFA. This year, she generously donated that bronze, which is yet another variation on a theme.  Like many artists, Rubin  struck upon a creative vein that seized his imagination.

Kanahwa Landscape


Stele in San Augustine, Columbia

A stele (stee-lee) is an upright slab or pillar   bearing an inscription or design, often inscribed or carved in relief.  In ancient times, stelai (plural,stee-lay) served as gravestones,  monuments, or boundary markers.  Similar to stelai are totems, usually an animal or other natural figures that spiritually represents a clan or tribe.  Typically, totems are designed with animals, people or spirit figures of ancestral significance. Totems, like stelai, commemorate important events and memorialize family or tribal stories.
      The figurative presence and other-worldly character of Rubin’s stelai/totems, the fineness of their incised detail and hauntingly evocative hieroglyphs hearken back to ancient sources yet reflect a modernism all their own.

A sample of available totems and steles in the Rubin Peacock Studio

Swirling Stele

Stele with Holes

Square Head Stele


Rippled Stele