The University of Miami Presidential Chair

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The University of Miami Presidential Chair, also known as cathedra.

The Presidential Chair


The University of Miami Presidential Chair, or cathedra, takes its place on the commencement stage as a symbol of the Office of the President. Traditionally representing the seat of learning, the cathedra was designed and crafted by master furniture maker Austin Matheson, an adjunct professor in the School of Architecture whose family history in South Florida predates the University’s 1925 founding. Matheson carved and joined what appear to be the seamless pieces of the chair from a single slab of highly prized and once-abundant Cuban mahogany wood. It was salvaged from a tree felled by a hurricane in nearby Coconut Grove. The fluidity of his design represents the idea that “We Are One U,” while his use of a contemporary style and a few traditional flourishes represent the University’s rich past and promising future. “The chair is unique. It has no precedent. It stands alone,” Matheson said. Etched by laser, the Great Seal of the University of Miami is prominently displayed on the splat, or back, of the chair. More subtly, twin silhouettes of an ibis head, with its graceful beak, adorn each side of the crest rail. Known for its invincible spirit when hurricanes approach, the marsh bird has been the school mascot since the University opened its doors, just a month after the hurricane of 1926 devastated Miami. Like the chair, the ibis continues to be a symbol of our resilience and renewal as we approach our new century.