Late Nicholas alum’s sculpture donated to school

Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment community lost a beloved member in 2014. But thanks to a generous donation of one of wood artist Kurt Hupé’s sculptures, his memory will live on in the place that nurtured his love of the environment.

Hupé earned a bachelor of arts in economics and minor in biological anthropology at Duke University in 1992, and completed a master of environmental management degree from the Nicholas School in 1994. He was a talented artist, singer, and wordsmith who balanced his creative endeavors with a career dedicated to sustainability, permaculture, and, above all, trees and wood.

Hupé applied his expertise in forest policy, management, and conservation in many ways, including serving as director and communications specialist for land trusts; guiding investors to support ethical investments; speaking at the United Nations about ethical trade; and creating beautiful wood sculptures out of reclaimed timber.

Hupé’s family—mindful of his deep connection to both the environment and Duke—recently donated one of his sculptures to be displayed at the Nicholas School’s Environment Hall.

“Kurt’s time at the Nicholas School was one of the richest and happiest of his life,” shared his mother, Patricia Gignilliat, and his sister, Pallas Hupé Cotter. “It is where he found a purpose for his passion: helping people recognize the value of our world’s forests, but also that we are the forests’ ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘neighbors.’ By saving them, we save ourselves.”

Hupé’s six-foot-tall sculpture, like many of his pieces on display around the country, was crafted from a salvaged tree otherwise destined for a fire pile or landfill.

Karen Kirchof, assistant dean for career and professional development at the Nicholas School, knew Hupé well while he was a student, and the two kept in touch periodically after graduation.

“When Kurt was a student, we talked about his passion and what he wanted to accomplish in his life, our chats always evolved around forests, art and spirit,” Kirchof recalls. “Kurt’s powerful ability to communicate the importance of ‘our’ environment was a hallmark of his work. When we touched base in the ensuing years and he told me what he was doing, I knew he found his sense of place and a platform to engage many in the environment dialog through his art and just being Kurt.”

This Blueprints blog post is a reprint with the expressed permission of the original author. Article written by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations. For more information, please contact (919) 613-8003 or email

TAGS: Gifts of art Kurt Hupe gifts in kind

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