Nostalgia: Picasso at USF? It was more likely than you think

Despite university hopes, the project never happened due to funding issues. ORACLE GRAPHIC/JUSTIN SEECHARAN

Pablo Picasso, a world-renowned Spanish artist, has work featured in many major art collections in places like Paris and Barcelona.

In the 1970s, USF was almost added to that list.

However, the 100-foot sculpture, titled “Bust of a Woman,” never came to fruition at the university. The project was meant to encourage financial support around a new “Florida Center for the Arts” building on campus, which would revolve around the sculpture.

The initiative started off promising. A 30-inch model of the piece was unveiled in September 1971. USF’s president at the time, Cecil Mackey, said he expected the sculpture to be completed the following summer.

What Mackey didn’t know was that years of delays, controversy and budget concerns would ensue.

Though Picasso died in 1973, Ben Christopher, then-assistant vice president of the company that donated the model of the sculpture, said his death had no correlation to the delays. Picasso approved the sculpture in early 1972, Christopher said.

Although it never met Mackey’s projected opening date, progress continued on the sculpture. The project had been approved by the Board of Regents, now known as the Board of Governors, the day after Picasso’s death in April 1973. The next month, it was estimated to cost the university $250,000.

Construction was expected to begin in early 1974, but no completion date had been set.

Around this time, the community began questioning the delays. In fall 1973, Christopher, said no contract had been signed with the construction company but they had “verbal consent.” He also confirmed the structure would take longer than usual to construct given its “unusual” design.

Financial shortages delayed construction again, and, despite efforts to gather public donations, the project was still stalled by the end of 1974.

“We’ve talked more than we’ve actually done,” Terry Edmunson, director of University development at the time, said in a January 1974 Oracle article.

The Oracle released an editorial in December 1974 calling the project a “bust.” The university had secured $215,000, but the price tag for the sculpture had inflated to $500,000.

Despite hopes that the sculpture would eventually find the funding it needed in the coming years, it never came to be in the way university officials – or Picasso himself – had hoped.

Here’s a look at The Oracle’s original coverage of the sculpture: