Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker statue caused a furor on campus last year that launched Wellesley into both national and international news. It was not, however, the only outdoor sculpture on campus. Many of these sculptures have become so much a part of everyday life at Wellesley that they are often overlooked.
The oldest of these sculptures is John Rood’s Persephone, which was installed outside the Bates dorm when it was constructed in 1952. Persephone is a tall stone sculpture that resembles the bud of a flower with hollow space in the middle. In addition to the free-standing sculpture, there is also a limestone plaque known as the Demeter Wall, which was another part of Rood’s sculpture. This limestone plaque features a central, circular design surrounded by blades of grass and stalks of wheat.
The names of these two sculptures reference an ancient Greek myth where the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, loses her daughter, Persephone, to the king of the underworld and goes into a period of grieving. The ancient Greeks believed that it was this period of grieving which causes winter each year. When Persephone returns to Demeter, the spring comes back to the land.
In the November 1952 issue of the Wellesley alumnae magazine, Rood, who was married to Wellesley alumna Dorothy Rood, who graduated under her maiden name Dorothy Bridgman Atkinson in 1910, spoke about his frustration trying to incorporate the figure of Persephone and the feeling of emerging from the underworld into the statue.
“At last I hit upon the idea of enclosing the figure within the stone, so that the space itself becomes the figure of Persephone. The underground feeling is thus subtly conveyed,” Rood wrote.
The Demeter Wall was also inspired by the same myth, but had a completely different feel for the artist.
“The subject matter of Demeter is totally different. I had to express here, not the restless bursting forth of spring, but the quietness of harvest, the brooding calm of earth resting after its great yearly effort. And so I made a figure sitting like a Buddha, surrounded by giant heads of wheat, the entire design giving an impression of heaviness and calm,” Rood wrote.
Persephone is abstract, and different students have different interpretations of what the statue is supposed to be. Jenny Stryker ’17, lived in Freeman Hall last year and saw the statue often.
“I think it’s a vagina statue. I think it looks like a vagina-flower thing,” Stryker said. “It’s kind of like a Georgia O’Keefe in a way but a lot more like a vagina.”
Kathleen Hanlon ’15, also saw the statue often when she lived in Bates for Wintersession. However she had a different opinion of it.
“It kind of reminds me of an an egg, but I really have no idea what it is,” Hanlon said.
Long Spread by Michael Steiner was the next sculpture to be installed in 1974 in the Academic Quad. This steel sculpture with several wavy plates and intersecting straight planes of metal is a site-specific sculpture because it was specifically designed with the location of the Academic Quad in mind. Steiner installed it after a workshop with Wellesley students.
In creating the work, Steiner was concerned with the aesthetic balance of the sculpture. He believed that the sculpture should challenge traditional tastes and age well.
Another example of a site-specific work is Woodland Garden, a sculpture that resembles the foundation of a house, with low stone walls, and smaller works that resemble delicately balanced wood sculptures within the larger frame. The sculpture is located along the walking trail that goes around Lake Waban. The statue was created as a collaboration between sculptor Michael Singer and architect Michael McKinnell.
Conceptually, this collaboration between an architect and artist was groundbreaking when it occurred in the period between 1989 and 1992. The statue is also considered an environmental sculpture, because it modifies the environment around it and uses elements of nature.
The materials of the original sculpture included low stone walls, blueberries, maple and other native New England plants. These plantings seem to have moved since 1992, and are not immediately visible when viewing the sculpture at present.
According to Singer, the natural shape of the area where the sculpture is located influenced the sculpture itself.
“As you come to the place along the trail it forms a natural room enclosed by the ground elevations. In the west, south and north, the land rises. It is enclosed by the lake in the east,” Singer said in official notes on the design process.
Singer also played with the symbolism created by the College itself when considering the symbolism of his own work.
“There is a clear view of the Wellesley boat house and the [Galen Stone] tower. I see the tower as a symbol of Western culture, a monument to mark an intellectual triumph. The site symbolizes of the opposite. It is a celebration of the earth, the underlying structure of the ground,” Singer said.
The next sculpture to be installed, Mozart III, arrived at the College in 2008 as a gift of an alumna, Lynn Dixon Johnston ’64 and her husband Robert Johnston.
Mozart III was designed by internationally renowned sculptor Kenneth Snelson and stands between the Science Center and Green Hall. The sculpture includes several metallic tubes suspended in midair in an intricate web.
The statue is made of stainless steel tubes and wire cables, and it stands at 24 feet by 24 feet by 30 feet.
Snelson’s work in general is characterized by a unique force he calls “tensegrity,” a combination of the words “tension” and “integrity” that attempts to capture the equilibrium of contrasting forces in his sculptures.
According to an interview that Snelson gave in Sculpture magazine about the piece, the sculpture was named Mozart III because of its attempt to balance the scientific, the musical and the poetic.
“The wires and metal tubes are my keyboard, on which I play my three-dimensional spatial game,” Snelson said. “It’s like playing a violin.”
The most recent sculpture installed at Wellesley is Clement Meadmore’s Upsurge, which stands next to the Davis parking garage. The sculpture appears to be a simple metal block as it emerges from the ground, but makes several sharp twists and turns around itself, so that it cannot possibly be a simple block. It weighs 1,500 pounds and stands at 20 feet by 13 feet by 8 feet.
Meadmore passed away in 2005, but the statue was given to the College in 2012 as a gift by the same patrons who donated Mozart III.
One of Meadmore’s primary inspirations was the idea of taking an object and manipulating its form in unexpected ways. He has stated that his work does not have any abstract significance.
These statues all vary in their medium, artistic vision and the time they were installed, but each adds one more layer of beauty and significance to the Wellesley campus.
Photo by Bianca Pichamuthu ’16, Photography Editor