WILLIAMSTOWN -- The Williams College Museum of Art contains approximately 13,000 art objects, and beyond the walls of the galleries, Williams has installed works of art for all to see.
A walk through the campus reveals 15 public works of art, some dating back to before the founding of the college in 1793.
"Every aspect of a campus should contribute to a college's educational focus," said Williams College President Adam Falk. "That's certainly the case with the public art here at Williams, which provides aesthetic experiences every day to all who pass through campus - not just students, but faculty, staff, alumni, parents, local residents and visitors."
The public art enhancing the beauty of the campus represents a wide range of media and artists.
The Civil War was being waged when renowned innovator James Batterson (1823-1901) was enlisted to design and fabricate a monument to commemorate Williams men who made the supreme sacrifice during the conflict that, in some cases, pitted neighbor against neighbor and brother against brother.
The resulting monument, a bronze statue of a Union soldier atop a sandstone base adorned with bronze plaques inscribed with the names of the Williams men who died in the Civil War, was one of the first of its kind.
"The Soldiers' Monument" was dedicated in 1868, but the date it was installed on the lawn of Griffin Hall is not known," said Lisa Dorin, Williams College Museum of Art deputy director for curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art.
Over time, the base of the monument fell into disrepair and become unstable. After the names on the base were copied for inclusion in a memorial to fallen soldiers in Thompson Memorial Chapel, the base was broken and thrown into the Green River.
With the original sculpture secured to a new base, the monument was re-dedicated in 1929 and placed on the lawn of Griffin Hall.
"The gold dome of the cupola and the red brick [of Griffin Hall] are the perfect backdrop for this fine monument," a Williams upperclassman said recently.
The sculpture titled "Eyes," situated on the lawn of the Williams College Museum of Art, was unveiled in the fall of 2001 in celebration of the museum's 75th anniversary. Funds for "Eyes" were provided by the museum fellows and friends, and the museum endowment.
There are nine elements in the abstract sculpture - four pairs of eyes and an immense eye cluster - some of which double as benches. "'Eyes' is a convenient place for us [students] to meet," said a Williams student. "We sit on the sculptures that serve as benches and talk for hours."
Crafted by acclaimed artist Louise Bourgeois when she was 90, "Eyes" is composed of granite, bronze and electric light. Some people feel that the bluish beam of light that emanates from the irises at night casts an ethereal glow in the atmosphere, others find the light eerie: "Are the eyes actually watching me?"
Bourgeois more than liked the color blue, according to a quote attributed to the French-American artist, who died in 2010. "The color blue - that is my color" Bourgeois had said. "The color blue means that you have left the drab day-to-day reality to be transported not into a world of fantasy - no it's not a world of fantasy, but a world of freedom where you can say what you like and don't like ..."
"Large Bowl," installed on the Science Quad in 2000, was commissioned to coincide with the opening of the Unified Science Center. The 12-foot, 18,000-pound bronze work of art was cast from a wood sculpture created by Ursula Von Rydingsvard (born in 1942), whose usual medium is cedar.
Encompassed by large evergreen bushes, "Large Bowl" is not as prominent as most of the other public works of art. Von Rydingsvard was involved in the landscaping and selecting the foliage that would be planted around the piece.
"In her work, Ursula often addresses the blurred lines between human-made and the natural world," Dorin explained. "She often sites her work in settings in which the work becomes integrated into nature."
The oldest piece of outdoor art on the campus graces the back garden of the Oakley Center, which is located in Makepeace House on the south edge of Denison Park. The 13th-century Carrera marble artesian well cover from Venice was given to Williams in 2004 as a gift of the estate or Elizabeth J.P. Viall. In earlier years, the well cover stood in the garden of the Viall family. (Raymond Viall graduated from Williams in 1942.)
With floral motifs and mythical beasts carved into the marble, the well cover is a beautiful and interesting piece.
Haystack Monument was erected in 1867 to mark the spot near Mission Park where in the shelter of a haystack during a summer storm in 1806, five students dedicated their lives to the service of the church around the globe.
"The monument has become something of a pilgrimage site over the years," said Rev. Richard Spalding, chaplain to the college. "The site is particularly meaningful to evangelical Christians, many of whom see it as an important historic site in the spreading of the Christian message internationally.
"Back in 2006, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the haystack prayer meeting, we held a major three-day symposium on the event and its ramifications," he said. "Several hundred from all the U.S. and the world attended."
Horrendous acts of violence motivated some students to come together at the monument in 2001.
"On the night of September 11, when we were so deeply shaken and stricken with grief by the events of that day, our student Christian Fellowship chose to gather at the Haystack Monument for their prayer vigil," Spalding recalled.
The most recent addition to the public works of art, "Double L Excentric Gyratory II," was erected next to the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance in June 2011. The 29-foot stainless steel sculpture was created in 1981 by world renowned American artist George Warren Rickey (1907-2002).
Rickey was one of the first artists to create kinetic (moving) sculpture, and the double L "dances."
This unique sculpture was made possible by the generous support of the class of 1961 on the occasion of their 50th reunion.
"The class is eager to see more public art on campus and to work towards establishing an ongoing fund for the future purchase of public artworks," said Dorin. "We at the museum are excited to have enthusiastic partners in the class of ‘61 to work closely with us as we develop the protocols that will allow us to responsibly build the public art collection, taking into consideration siting and ongoing conservation."
For more information about public art at Williams, visit wcma.williams.edu/modules/public-art-at-williams/.