Last Saturday, the College rededicated Ursula von Rydingsvard’s massive bronze sculpture “Large Bowl” in a ceremony at the work’s site in Morley Circle. Von Rydingsvard, Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) leaders, alumni and other community members attended the event and spoke about the importance of public art on campus and the unique contributions of this sculpture in particular.
“We love Williams. We love the Bowl. And thank you Ursula for everything you’ve done,” said Peter B. Pond ’67, who, along with his wife Alice, donated Large Bowl to the College in 1997. The Ponds, von Rydingsvard and the WCMA team had clearly bonded over their passion for the sculpture. There was even a running joke among the artist and the alum that Large Bowl is Peter Pond’s “girlfriend.”
Von Rydingsvard originally constructed the work out of cedar fir 4×4 planks that she stacked and shaved. The sculpture was then cast in bronze, but the texture and grain of the wood are still visible in the final work. While the piece’s jagged form is not immediately recognizable as a bowl, von Rydingsvard said she chose the name to represent the emotions she wanted to inflect.
Because they all recognized the work’s significance, the Ponds, WCMA and the artist were long concerned that its site in Morley Circle didn’t display the art to its full potential. Recently they undertook a project to re-landscape and re-site the inside of Morley Circle to better complement the sculpture as a centerpiece and destination. Saturday’s event was a celebration of their hard work for the cause of Large Bowl and of art at the College. “To place a piece in a context that is wrong is painful,” von Rydingsvard told the crowd gathered on Saturday. “In a way, we have uncovered it.”
In its new site, Large Bowl is surrounded by greenery that will complement it with movement and life. Stonework of locally quarried stone forms benches and patios that can be used as a park – Pond dreams of the spot as an outdoor classroom, with seminar classes being held at the site. But most importantly, Large Bowl herself – all of Saturday’s speakers referred to her as feminine – was refinished by von Rydingsvard with new patination to restore her shine, which will now last indefinitely with regular maintenance. Von Rydingsvard even spoke of the process of patination as humanizing the sculpture, since the extreme heat used in the treatment made the sculpture seem like more of a living being. In the Bowl’s new exposed site, her gleam will reflect light at all hours of the day, making her a living presence visible from near and far. The sculpture is no longer surrounded by trees. Rather, “it’s open now to the sun, to the sky, but most importantly it’s open to the people who will enjoy it,” von Rydingsvard said. “It can be seen.”
WCMA Curator of Collections Katie Price coordinated the “ambitious” plan for Large Bowl’s new site and spoke at the ceremony about the vision the team worked to create. “Ursula spoke of Large Bowl as an enclosure, a respite, a haven and a social being,” Price said, “a feminine presence whose surface should respond to the changing light of the seasons.”
Ultimately, Large Bowl contributes to a larger project of bringing art into every aspect of the student experience, Class of ’56 Director of WCMA Christina Olsen said. Public art allows students to experience art “as they’re living their lives” and art “participate[s] deeply in the education project on campus,” she said. Von Rydingsvard emphasized that students are allowed to touch the work – they’re meant to interact with the sculpture and consider the emotions it inspires.
Von Rydingsvard said in the ceremony that she’s been extremely impressed with the dedication of College alumni in enhancing education on campus, mentioning that “I want all my grandchildren to go here.” For his part, Peter Pond finally feels that he and the College have done justice to the sculpture he brought to Williamstown 18 years ago. “The stonework is just gorgeous,” he said. “I came here at 7:30 a.m. and it brought a tear to my eye. This is its home now.”