If, like many students at the College, you have taken the famed course in “Aspects of Western Art,” then you are doubtless familiar with at least a few of the prominent pieces of public art on our campus. But while everyone has seen Louise Bourgeois’ Eyes (Nine Elements) in front of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) or George Warren Rickey’s Double L Excentric Gyratory II in front of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, many may not be aware of just how much public art the College possesses. In fact, there are 15 pieces of public art on the College’s campus proper, with another nine pieces housed on our Field Farm property a short distance away. Each of these works of art tells a slightly different story, acting as a reflection of both the College and of the vast world of art outside our rural hamlet.
While many of the works were commissioned specially for display at the College, only two specifically reference members of the College community. The Haystack Monument, adjacent to Mission Park, commemorates the story of Samuel J. Mills, a Christian missionary and student who “conceived of the idea to found an American missionary movement focused on spreading Christianity worldwide, particularly to the East,” while seeking shelter from a lightning storm under a haystack. The sculpture was commissioned by Harvey Rice, class of 1824, and was crafted locally by an anonymous artist.
Similarly, The Soldiers Monument in front of Griffin Hall honors College graduates of the past, particularly those who lost their lives in the Civil War. Anticipating the demand for such an artistic tribute, the College’s trustees raised the funds for the memorial in 1864, far in advance of the war’s conclusion. The monument, which shows a bronze Union soldier atop a marble base, has every soldier from the College who died in battle commemorated by name. Though anonymous artisans constructed the monument, James Goodwin Batterson of Hartford, Conn. designed the monument, and received an honorary master’s degree from the College to commend his efforts.
Other pieces commemorate major steps forward in the College’s history. Ursula von Rydingsvard’s Large Bowl, which stands between the science quad and Morley Circle, was purchased in order to coexist with the newly finished unified science center. According to Charles M. Lovett Jr., professor of chemistry, “Bowl was chosen to complement the surrounding architecture, echoing the bold verticals of the science center as well as the rougher and smaller wooden houses.”
A similarly striking and rough-hewn sculpture, Ju Ming’s Taichi, stands next to Park Street near Mission Park. The piece, which is actually on an extended loan from Hong-Kong based curator and art dealer Tsong-Zung Chang ’73, took 10 years to complete. Like Large Bowl, Taichi is constructed out of bronze yet evokes the power and uneven formation of stone rather than the precision of metal. The work simultaneously blends in with its surroundings and remains completely distinct.
Many science majors are surely familiar with Wave Machine, which hangs from the ceiling of the Bronfman science building. The work of art was designed not by a professional sculptor, but by Professor of Physics Emeritus Fielding Brown, whose daughter gave him the idea to design a large-scale torsion wave machine after auditing his introductory physics class.
As previously stated, much of the College’s public art is housed at the Field Farm, a satellite property not far away in Williamstown. These 316 acres off of Sloan Road offer four miles of trails as well as a guesthouse that was once the residence of Lawrence Bloedel, a College alumnus. All but one of the pieces on this property were bequeathed to the College by Bloedel, as well. Most of
these sculptures are in or near the garden. Most of the pieces are somewhat abstract, with most having been completed between the 1950s and the 1970s. One of the many works by prominent artists is Temptation of Eve by American sculptor Elbert Weinberg. Weinberg was the youngest ever recipient of the Prix de Rome, and his works can also be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Rushing from class to class, it can be easy to forget about the art that becomes so interwoven into our daily lines of vision. But next time, take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to reside on a campus with such a commitment to public art.