I’ve never been much of an indoor person. If professors (and weather) permitted, I’d love to attend all of my classes under a tree on the Arts Quad. Consequently, when I’m at work or visiting the Johnson Museum, I often imagine how I’d curate an outdoor art exhibition. In a world where objects were impervious to climatological damage, wouldn’t it be nice to see a suit of armor sitting on the grass, a Hudson River School landscape hanging from a branch, or Northwest Coast masks staring out at you from the bushes?
Since I lack the resources to create my own outdoor museum, of course, Cornell’s impressive collection of outdoor art will have to do in the meantime. Follow along for a digital tour of my favorite artworks that aren’t kept at the Johnson!* If you have friends or family visiting (like I did this weekend!), what better way to frame your campus tour than with some fun facts about our coolest sculptures?
*”Favorite” meaning you’re not going to find that giant shiny circle with stairs outside of Appel on this list. I know what I like.
The Ag Quad (home to the appropriately spooky tree featured above) is the perfect “gallery” in which to begin any exploration of Cornell’s outdoor art scene: its secret gardens are resplendent in the fall season.
The Minns Garden, established by Cornell professor Lua Minns in the 1920s, is a gorgeous gated oasis on Tower Road near Bradfield Hall and the Plant Sciences Building. During my freshman year, I used eat to-go meals from Trillium in the garden before heading to BIOEE 2070: Evolution.
In addition to a colorful assortment of plants (tended by current horticulture students), the garden also features more traditional manmade art. Its three gates, draped in metal replicas of apples, flowers, and branches, are the work of Ithaca blacksmith Durand van Doren.
If you prefer more abstract contemporary works, keep an eye out for what looks like a collection of skinny stacked pyramids in front of the new Human Ecology building (between Martha van Rensselaer Hall and Beebe Lake).
The sculpture sits alone in the Hum Ec courtyard without a visible plaque or inscription–but though its origins remain a mystery, its bright, Cornell-appropriate color and delicate design still warrant a look if you’re walking down the hill from Bailey.
No discussion of abstract outdoor art at Cornell would be complete without Jacques Lipchitz’s Song of the Vowels, a massive, curvilinear work located between Uris Library and Olin Library. (And, fortunately, the history of this piece is much better documented than that of our red Hum Ec friend!)
Lipchitz, a Cubist sculptor, completed the original piece in 1931; the version on the Arts Quad has been in the Cornell collection since 1962. During my time at Cornell, I’ve passed by Lipchitz’s odd bronze hundreds of times without ever knowing that it has six twins–there’s also a Song of the Vowels at Princeton, Stanford, and a few other museums and universities throughout the country.
I’m not overly fond of towering naked men, but Jason Seley’s Herakles in Ithaka I is undoubtedly a Cornell landmark. Seley was a professor and dean of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning, and recreated the Classical hero by welding car bumpers together.
If your parents didn’t already snap a picture of you and this dude during O-Week, you’ll find him between Uris Hall and the Statler.
A former Engineering student introduced me to the beautiful Pew Sundial this morning. When the device is set properly, the shadow cast on the “clock” should align with the correct time (although it appeared to be about thirty minutes off today). Joseph Pew Jr. himself was an important Engineering School benefactor, and the entire quad is actually named in his honor.
Sundial fans might also want to visit the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock, which gazes out from the top of Rhodes Hall, but be warned: it’s much less visually striking than the Pew sundial!
There’s a less prominent sculptural memorial behind the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad. This boulder remembers Professor Ralph Stockman Tarr, who taught physical geography at Cornell more than a hundred years ago. According to the inscription, his students chose this particular stone–a “Relic of the Ice Age”–to pay tribute to his interest in glaciology.
And, of course, how could I possibly make a post about outdoor sculpture without including these guys?
The statue of A.D. White was completed in 1915 by Karl Bitter, an Austrian-American sculptor who also memorialized the likes of Thomas Jefferson through sculpture. Good old Ezra, on the other hand, was unveiled in 1919 and created by Hermon Atkins MacNeil, who taught at Cornell during the late nineteenth century.
(Neither sculptor could’ve predicted that their creations would eventually sport accessories such as birthday hats, breast cancer awareness shirts, and plastic leis when pranked by wily students.)
That’s the end of my quick tour, but don’t let that stop you! Any readers seeking an extra challenge might want to look into the reliefs of Antoine Lavoisier, Ben Franklin, and friends on Tjaden Hall; the hidden rock garden between Willard Straight and Gannett; or the Andy Goldsworthy Holocaust Memorial out in the Plantations…
…not to mention the infamous dragon eggs (or halved golf balls? Flying saucer lids? Remote viewing apparatuses for Teletubbies?) of Milstein Hall.
Good luck explaining that one to your guests.