At first glance, the beauty of Mount Oread lies in nature: the hill, the trees, the landscaping. And after that, perhaps, the buildings take over, with limestone craftsmanship that, in some cases, has withstood nearly 150 years.
But look closer, and key pieces of art make campus what it is. In some cases, pieces have been in place so long they’re almost taken for granted.
Take, for instance, the Uncle Jimmy Green sculpture in front of Lippincott Hall, the Jayhawk in front of Strong Hall, the Phog Allen sculpture at Allen Fieldhouse and the Moses sculpture, which depicts the scene in the university’s seal and sits in front of Smith Hall.
Dig deeper into the campus’ outdoor art exhibition, as Elizabeth Kowalchuk has, and you’ll find fascinating stories about sculptures that are off the beaten path.
We asked Kowalchuk, associate dean of the Kansas University School of the Arts and a member of the Public Art on Campus Committee, to give us a virtual tour of some of KU’s lesser-known sculptures. Here are some of her comments, combined with information about the art from the university.
“Tai Chi Figure”
Location: Green Hall
Artist: Zhu Ming
Year of creation: 1985
History: Chancellor Clarke Wescoe and his wife, Barbara, purchased the piece to honor Barbara’s father, Judge Willard M. Benton, who graduated from the KU School of Law in 1920.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “In tai chi, you have to be very balanced. It’s a set of physical activities, but it’s also a mental way of achieving balance. The Wescoes believed this represented the law — it’s all about balance, being deliberate and being disciplined.”
Location: Spencer Museum of Art
Artist: James Rosati
Year of creation: 1980
History: The work represents the style of many of Rosati’s sculptures, which include a piece in the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “He’s most famous for a work of art that doesn’t exist anymore.” His piece, “Ideogram,” was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It was housed in the World Trade Center.
Location: Marvin Grove
Artist: Richard Hollander
Year of creation: 1981
History: This was a somewhat controversial piece of art. At the time, it was part of a plan to add multiple sculptures to Marvin Grove, the forested area between Jayhawk Boulevard and Memorial Stadium. The title implies that the steel circles represent wheels on the highway. The artist was an American who was fluent in German and, officially, served as an interpreter for the U.S. during World War II. However, many speculate he was, in fact, a spy.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “The piece suggests wheels and movement. So isn’t it in an interesting place, where there is not a lot of car traffic and movement?”
“Prairie Formation” and “The Pioneer”
Location: Between Fraser, Twente and Blake halls
Artists: Jim Bass (“Prairie Formation”) and Frederick C Hibbard (“The Pioneer”)
Years of creation: 1981 (“Prairie Formation”) and 1904 (“The Pioneer”)
History: These pieces, though varied in era and style, both represent connections to the land. “The Pioneer” is the oldest piece of free-standing art on campus. It made its debut as “The Corn Planter” at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, where the artist hoped to express the hardships of Kansas farmers. The piece previously stood in front of Spooner Hall, at the present-day Chi Omega Fountain and east of Fraser Hall before being moved to its current location in 1969. In “Prairie Formation,” Bass hoped “to reconcile the visual landscape of the 20th century with the textures and forms of the Kansas landscape.”
Kowalchuk’s comment: “They very much represent their own eras, and yet they have similar kinds of ideas behind them.”
Location: Near Youngberg Hall
Artist: Dale Eldred
Year of creation: 1969
History: The large, steel sculpture was the gift of the Simpson family of Salina (hence its name). The initial site of the piece was to be a triangular area south of the current Prairie Acre, but residents near the area expressed concern about children climbing on it and hurting themselves. After several years in storage, another location on West Campus was selected.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “I think it’s as much about the piece as it is the shadows it creates,” noting it has been both referred to as a giant sundial and a waffle iron. In fact, the “Salina Piece” inspired another award-winning artwork in 2011 when KU alumnus Matthew Farley crafted a waffle-like creation out of snow under it for a few days.
Location: Spooner Hall
Artist: Craig Dan Goseyun
Year of creation: 1994
History: The sculpture, in front of KU’s oldest existing academic building, is of a human figure carrying a jar of water. Its artist is a member of the San Carlos Eastern White Mountain Apache tribe, which is significant because, at the time of its creation, the building housed KU’s anthropology collection, including many American Indian artifacts.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “This is part of a series of work about the importance of water to life.” She also notes the inscription on Spooner Hall’s façade: “Whosoever findeth wisdom findeth life.”
“St. George and the Dragon”
Location: Façade of Twente Hall
Artist: Marjorie Whitney
Year of creation: 1932
History: The scene of St. George slaying a dragon is on the original Watkins Memorial Hospital, which now houses the School of Social Welfare. The dragon represented disease.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “The bas relief reinforces the style of the building, which is done in an art deco style.”
Dyche Hall grotesques
Where: Dyche Hall
Artists: Joseph Robaldo Frazee and Vitruvius Frazee
Years of creation: 1901-1902
History: The father-and-son team originally sculpted 12 creatures out of limestone. Among those were ones that featured the words “Rock Chalk,” “Jayhawk” and “KU.” Four of the original grotesques were removed during an expansion in 1962; one was lost, but three others remain in the building’s administrative offices.
Kowalchuk’s comment: “These are grotesques and not gargoyles. Gargoyles serve a functional purpose,” which is removing water from a building.
Location: Nichols Hall
Artist: Charles Umlauf
Year of creation: 1964
History: Umlauf created several versions of this sculpture, which features the Greek myth of Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in which Icarus flew too close to the sun. The inscription says it represents “the willingness of mankind to experiment and to venture into the unknown even though such quests may be dangerous.”
Kowalchuk’s comment: “This was donated by Phillips Petroleum, and that represents a long relationship between KU and the energy industry, especially with engineering and geology.” The sculpture once was on display in the Phillips headquarters in Bartlesville, Okla.
“The Victory Eagle”
Location: Dyche Hall
Artists: Thomas F. Roberts and Otto Widman
Year of creation: 1920
History: “The Victory Eagle” was the second in a series of national sculptures depicting a female bald eagle defending her eaglets. The sculptures were part of a national campaign to honor casualties of World War I.
Kowalchuk’s comment: Initially set at the Douglas-Leavenworth county line in 1929, the eagle was vandalized in 1980 and moved to KU for safety.