Florida State University’s Marching Chiefs are world-renowned for producing a grand “wall of sound,” and now the famed band is forever immortalized on the wall of FSU’s historic Heritage Museum.
A one-of-a-kind, three-dimensional stained-glass window honoring the Marching Chiefs was dedicated at a ceremony Friday, Sept. 20. Florence Ashby, an FSU alumna and member of the band in the 1950s, donated $25,000 to the Heritage Museum to fund the project.
“I am absolutely thrilled with the new window,” said Ashby, who performed with the band as an undergraduate and graduate student from 1953 to 1958. “I want it to be a tribute to the Marching Chiefs, which formally started in 1953 under the direction of Manley Whitcomb. The window is a tribute to all Marching Chiefs through the years.”
President John Thrasher thanked Ashby for making the project possible, as well as for her lifelong dedication and support of FSU. He also recognized the Marching Chiefs for the positive impact the program has had on generations of Seminoles.
“Every great university needs a great marching band, and we have the nation’s best in the Marching Chiefs,” Thrasher said. “I am so pleased that we are recognizing the band in such a public and lasting way.”
The design process began more than a year ago with Ashby recounting her memories of the band to designers at FSU’s Master Craftsman Studio. She envisioned certain details that would reflect all eras of the band since its inception 66 years ago.
The finished window shows three band members — two men at the side of a central figure depicting Ashby wearing the women’s black uniform of the day and playing her clarinet. Whitcomb had never directed female band members, Ashby recalled, and he required them to wear white majorette boots and long wool skirts tailored with a “kick pleat” that flashed gold stripes during performances.
“When we marched, those kick pleats would open and close to the sides, and the white majorette boots would go up and down,” said Ashby, a 2009 FSU Torch Award honoree. “Those kick pleats and white boots were memorable. We all wore white gloves, too, with fingers cut out because you can’t play a clarinet or other instruments with gloves on. The girls wore a cylindrical hat with a garnet plume, which made us look taller. It was intended to make us look the same height as the fellows on the field.”
In 1953, Whitcomb had just arrived at Florida State from Ohio State, a national powerhouse among marching bands, and he wanted to build a big band. He succeeded. Ashby was among a large contingent of freshman women recruited for the Marching Chiefs. Overall, the band started that year with 96 members — six rows of men in front followed by six rows of women, and Whitcomb instituted rigorous summer rehearsals.
“He required the band to rehearse every weekday from 4-6 p.m. and also on Saturday mornings when we had home games,” Ashby said. “We marched across campus to the football field, which was in the same place as today. We practiced so much we usually put on a very good show. I always felt performing was a thrill.”
The project is the result of a collaboration between University Libraries, the College of Music and the Master Craftsman Studio. Gale Etschmaier, dean of University Libraries, and Patricia Flowers, dean of the College of Music, each spoke during the ceremony.
The window is the first that has been installed in the Heritage Museum since University Libraries has overseen the facility.
“It is so fitting in terms of the mission of the Libraries to preserve the cultural history of the institution,” Etschmaier said. “This museum is a visible representation of the history of Florida State University.”
FSU’s Master Craftsman Studio, now in its 20th year and the leading university-affiliated art studio in the nation, has refined its process of creating three-dimensional stained-glass windows over the past decade, and as a result, the studio team was able to produce a distinctive piece of art for the Marching Chiefs.
“This is one of the more sculptural windows that we’ve produced, and the three-dimensional aspects of the cast-glass elements really pop,” said John Raulerson, the program director who oversees the creation, restoration and preservation of outdoor art on campus. “The cast sections are sculpted in a clay mold and molded. We then calculate the volume of the mold and heat the glass to 1,650 degrees to create relief sections of stained glass raised from the flat plane.”
That 3D effect is most apparent — and most dramatic — in the window’s central figure depicting by Ashby. Her clarinet, gleaming gold in the sunlight, stands out from the window about an inch-and-a-half.
Studio artist Courtney Ryan, who painted many of the glass pieces, loves it.
“I focused on painting in such a way so the window would look vibrant and bright,” Ryan said. “I spent a lot of time painting the fine details to make it look realistic. Now that it’s done, it looks spectacular. The sunlight really makes it shine.”
The studio team that brought the window to life included Juan Comas and Karen Pritzl as lead designers and fabricators, Chris Horne, Phil Gleason and Ryan. Their talents have elevated the Master Craftsman Studio into a design and fabrication house able to work with all materials and styles.
“This shop has no limitations because of the equipment and the exceptional talent we employ here,” Raulerson said.
Ashby’s gift honoring the Marching Chiefs becomes the 40th stained-glass window inside Dodd Hall’s Heritage Museum.