Editor’s Note: If you are interested in finding out more about Hill’s Lambda Chi Alpha commemorative badge, please visit Ira’s website.
Ira Hill (Alabama 1997) says, “It’s been a long time in coming.”
After joining the Alpha-Phi chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha at the University of Alabama he found his inspiration.
“That’s when I started creating art,” he says. “I originally began doing photography, and then print making, and finally got into sculpture, specifically metal casting.”
Part of Hill’s inspiration was seeing all the emblems and regalia of our brotherhood. He also observed that many of the other Greek houses at Alabama had crests or badges on the outside of their houses. They would turn their lights on or off for different events, but the Alpha-Phi chapter didn’t have one.
“Man, we need to make one of those,” he said at the time. The only display badge the chapter had was the Ritual badge made in the 1940s out of wood and wire.
Unfortunately it took Hill another 15 years to acquire the skills to make a commemorative badge.
“I probably made my first prototype through a variety of methods three years ago,” he said. “There’s molding, glass slumping, stained glass, metal casting, and then the electrical wiring. There’s all that plus the business and marketing of it.”
Within the last year Hill also became an officially-licensed Greek vendor and attended last summer’s Stead Leadership Conference at Iowa State University.
“It’s been an amazing experience just trying to make it; make it attractive, make it profitable, make it something that no one else can get,” he said. “It’s just a wide variety of skill sets that come together. It’s a nice challenge for me.”
Making It Affordable
Now that he has created the rubber mold, Hill can produce a finished product in about four weeks.
“I’ve advertised delivery as being longer than that – up to 24 weeks – just to give chapters the opportunity to space out the payments,” he said. “I’m trying to strategize so that chapters may pay for something that is expensive but not really be hurt by requiring a tremendous outlay all at one time.”
A typical display badge for Ritual is 24 inches wide. Hill’s bronze or aluminum badge is 15 inches wide. If it’s any larger, the bronze version becomes too heavy to easily lift. The aluminum version is two-thirds of the cost of the bronze, making it more affordable and not as cumbersome as the bronze.
Chapters often struggle with maintenance of their Ritual display badges since older ones are made with mercury switches, dated wiring, and incandescent bulbs that are becoming harder to find. Hill’s version of the commemorative badge has all of the modern elements: LED lighting, newer electronic switches, and more durable materials. The only delicate parts on his model are the glass pearls. It is also wired through 10 switches so that the Lambda LEDs come on in unison, then, just as would a Ritual badge, the pearls and the Delta Pi LEDs illuminate individually.
Clearly, this is a labor of love for Hill. He has thought about expanding his marketing to sororities but Lambda Chi is his true passion.
“I am really interested in providing a one-of-kind object to the organization of which I’m a member, more than turning it into a business,” he says. “I’m a practicing sculptor so I have to do the hustle wherever I can. Maybe one day expanding will be my best option but right now this is just something good to cultivate.”
The pricing for the badge is $2,500 for the bronze model and $1,800 for the aluminum version.
Artist vs. Craftsman
“I don’t know if I’m as much an artist as I am a craftsman,” he said. “I really enjoy the crossover between of the two. I really like the power of art, to compel viewers with visual media.”
Hill believes you can’t have craft without art and you can’t make art without craft. The benefit of being an artist is that it’s a wide open field.
After graduating from Alabama, Hill earned a master’s degree in fine arts from Florida State University. He also spent six years at Florida State’s Master Craftsmen Studios serving as associate director but retired last summer as he found the job to be too administrative.
Hill was recently awarded a residency at the Metal Museum in Memphis and he will be there through April, May, and June, working with other artists while producing a piece that will be part of their collection.
After that he’ll be back at his studio on the south side of Tallahassee where he’s been for the last 10 years.
“It’s kind of my heart and soul,” he said. “I can walk in here and not run to the store. I have the tooling and the resources to really execute whatever my vision is.