A Powerful Tribute: Breaking Barriers, a sculpture by Ivan Toth Depeña

April 5th 2023

A Powerful Tribute: Breaking Barriers, a sculpture by Ivan Toth Depeña


‘Breaking Barriers’, a permanent sculpture by artist Ivan Toth Depeña, commemorates the life of Jack Trice, Iowa State University’s first African-American athlete. Trice died from injuries he received during his first game with the ISU Cyclones in October of 1923. The work was installed for the centennial anniversary of Trice’s death in October 2022.

‘Breaking Barriers’ contemplates the idea of strength, struggle and absence that coincide with Jack Trice’s legacy. The sculpture’s location at the entrance of Trice Stadium on Iowa State University’s campus, challenges sports fans and students by increasing the awareness of a significant, historical event imbued by actions surrounding racial injustice. On a monumental scale, the sculpture intends to invoke the spirit of perseverance, memory/reflection and subsequent contemplation regarding our current state of unrest surrounding the subject of inequality.

The central monument consists of a large scale, white volume which has been fractured and broken through by the visage of Jack Trice. The interior, three-dimensional silhouette is large enough to encourage the viewer to pass through and experience the visual complexity that represents breaking the imposing barrier. Special attention has been paid to the material’s color, shape and texture to reference the underlying conceptual intent. On the outside of the sculpture, appear bronze cleat castings, shown in Trice’s defensive player stride fading away from the field and reflecting on his absence. In addition, there are two benches split by Trice’s symbolic wake. Made from the same material as the sculpture, the benches encourage contemplation on the past, present and the future surrounding Trice’s struggle and legacy.

The story of Jack Trice: The night before his first and, tragically, his last college football game, Jack Trice was separated from his teammates. Officials at the football team’s hotel did not allow Trice to eat with his teammates, resulting in the isolation of the Trice. Preparing for the game against Minnesota, Jack Trice wrote a letter, expressing his thoughts and concerns about the next day.

“The honor of my race, family and self are at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will!”
Jack Trice, excerpt from letter written the night before his fatal injury

The words “I will,” have become tied to Jack Trice’s legacy. During the game, Jack Trice fractured his collarbone but continued playing. Later in the game, he fell and was trampled by several Minnesota players. Trice was treated at a local hospital and returned home to Ames. Two days later, he died from his injuries. Though it has never been confirmed, it is speculated that Jack Trice was targeted for his skin color.

Project Credits:
Artist: Ivan Toth Depeña
Client: Iowa State University
Fabrication: American Artstone, Outshaped, Carolina Bronze