A Guide to Public Art at Dartmouth

A chronological look at where to find public artworks across campus and the significance of these pieces.

by Lauren Adler | 8/31/22 1:00am

8-20-22-emilliden-outdoor-sculpture
by Emil Liden / The Dartmouth Staff

This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.

Although many students go about their days on campus without fully appreciating the art around them, Dartmouth’s campus is home to an abundance of artwork. In addition to the thousands of items in the Hood Museum of Art’s collection, Dartmouth’s campus also features many public art installations. Hood Museum director John Stomberg stressed the importance of these pieces in students’ lives.

“I know that a lot of students don’t cognizantly say, ‘oh yeah, there’s the Joel Shapiro [sculpture],’ but it becomes part of their lived environment, and it’s the embodiment of creativity,” he said.“And at the core, that’s a skill or a habit that we all hope everybody at Dartmouth can have — everybody hopefully embraces a kind of creativity in whatever endeavor they’re following.”

From murals to statues to interactive sculptures, these public works bring character and beauty to various corners of campus. This is a brief chronological guide to the public art pieces on Dartmouth’s campus, in order of acquisition date. 

The Epic of American Civilization

José Clemente Orozco, 1932-34. Fresco.

The Orozco murals, located in their own room on the lower level of Baker Library, are perhaps the most well-known work on campus; they were designated a national historic landmark in 2013. The murals, which cover over 3,200 square feet of wall space, were painted over a two-year campus residency by the artist. 

Orozco’s commission in 1932 by the Board of Trustees was extremely controversial, as many students and alumni believed them to be inconsistent with the culture of the College and were unhappy with the hiring of a Mexican artist. Because the murals are a fresco, meaning that they are painted on wet plaster, they cannot be painted over; therefore, some particularly offended by the murals suggested scraping them off the walls.

“There was a lot of very strong criticism,” Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies professor Douglas Moody said. “Some people wanted to destroy the murals, some alumni loathe them.” 

Moody said that he often uses the murals as a teaching tool, especially in first-year writing classes, to demonstrate an alternative to the Eurocentric narrative of American civilizations many students may be familiar with before coming to Dartmouth.

“The student body is from all over the country, from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, and I think the epic of American civilization captures some of that complexity and diversity in our society,” Moody said. “As a teaching tool, they are, I think, quite impactful…to be able to go into that room and just sit down and study in Baker Library and be surrounded by those images is quite a special opportunity for students.”

Fountain Figure

Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones, 1963. Bronze.

“Fountain Figure,” commissioned by the Class of 1943 to honor their classmates who lost their lives during World War II, is a rare example of commemorative art on Dartmouth’s campus. The sculpture, located in a fountain in a quiet corner next to the Hopkins Center for the Arts, creates an area perfect for silent reflection. However, Stomberg said that the work will soon be moved to another home on campus, as its current location will be covered by the upcoming renovation to the Hop.

“When you do commemorative sculpture, there is an implicit commitment to keeping it around,” Stomberg said. “In this case, that’s something we can definitely get behind. There’s a strong veterans group on campus, and we will find a good place for that.”

Warner Bentley

Thomas Bayliss Huxley-Jones, 1968. Bronze.

The bust of Warner Bentley, located inside the Hop, is a campus favorite; Stomberg said that it was the only piece that the Hop specifically requested be returned after the renovation. Bentley himself was a pillar of Dartmouth’s performing arts program, serving as the director of the Dartmouth Players from 1928 until 1960 and then as director of the Hopkins Center from 1960 until 1969.

While no one is quite sure how this tradition started, students and other passersby will often touch the now-polished nose of the statue for good luck. 

“When you make public art, you have to accept that it’s going to get touched, otherwise you don’t put it in public,” Stomberg said. “It’s going to get touched, it’s going to get rained on, it’s going to get hit with a frisbee — it has to exist in the real world. But I’ve never seen one [as] polished as that guy’s nose.”

D2D

Charles O. Perry, 1973-5. Bronze.

Like “Thel,” “D2D” was commissioned during the construction of Fairchild and is located right next to Wilder Hall. According to Amelia Kahl, the Hood Museum curator of academic programming, the name of the sculpture was proposed by students as part of a class project. 

This work is a representation of the intersection between mathematics and art: the sculpture is in the form of a mobius strip, a visually deceptive three-dimensional form that only has one face and one edge. 

X-Delta

Mark di Suvero, 1970. Iron, steel and wood.

“X-Delta” is the only work of public art on campus that viewers are encouraged to touch — students can often be found studying or enjoying a beautiful day on the large swing attached to the sculpture. The beams that comprise the work form a large X and an upside-down triangle, which represents the greek letter delta. 

These mathematical forms are now located on the lawn between Baker-Berry Library and Kemeny Hall, which houses the math department, but Kahl said that it was initially placed in front of Sanborn Library when it was acquired by the College in 1976. Stomberg said that the person who ran Dartmouth’s art collection at the time was “extremely ambitious” to get such a piece of cutting-edge sculpture in Hanover; however, it faced such backlash that in 1984 it was relocated to where the Black Family Visual Arts Center now stands. It was moved to the Kemeny Courtyard in 2011, when construction began at the BVAC site.

Thel

Beverly Pepper, 1975-77. Painted Cor-Ten steel and grass.

“Thel” was commissioned by the College in the early 1970s, during the construction of the Fairchild Physical Sciences Center, and is located on the lawn between Fairchild and Wheeler Hall. It is the only work of public art on campus to include the grass it sits on as part of the sculpture, and Kahl noted that she believes that viewers often do not recognize it as an art object, perhaps due to its integration with the surrounding environment.

Kahl said that the sculpture’s location had previously been a popular spot for students to sunbathe, and when informed of student complaints that the work would bring their tanning sessions to an end, sculptor Beverly Pepper replied in The Dartmouth, “I didn’t take away your beach. I just gave you lawn chairs.”

Untitled

Joel Shapiro, 1990. Bronze.

The untitled sculpture by Joel Shapiro located in the Maffei Arts Plaza  — the area between the Hop, the Hood and the Black Family Visual Arts Center — gives the impression of a man falling backwards onto the ground in front of the Black Visual Arts Center. Kahl said that the piece is meant to “invite a physical experience” when students or faculty walk under it on their way into the building. 

According to Stomberg, the sculpture was commissioned site-specifically for a courtyard that no longer exists — it was eliminated during renovations to the Hood building in 2016. Kahl said the artist still wanted the work to interact with the brick facade and rectangular architecture of the back of the museum, so Stomberg consulted with Shapiro to find a new home for the piece where it stands today.

Robert Frost

George Lundeen, 1996. Bronze.

The Robert Frost statue sits behind Wilder Hall, on a hill near Bartlett Tower and the stump of the original Lone Pine that overlooks the BEMA. According to Stomberg, the statue was a gift to the College by the Class of 1961.

The statue shows Frost — who enrolled at Dartmouth in the fall of 1892 but dropped out before completing the term — deep in thought and looking out over the woods. He holds a pencil and a tablet, on which is inscribed the first line of his poem “Mending Wall”: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Many students will make the climb up the hill to sit next to Frost and engage in quiet reflection of their own.

Peaceful Serenity 

Allan C. Houser, 1992. Bronze-plated steel.

Located between the Sherman House — which is home to Dartmouth’s Native American and Indigenous studies department — and the Native American House, “Peaceful Serenity” is one of several works of Indigenous public art on campus. Sculptor Allan Houser was from the Chiricahua Apache tribe, and was one of the best-known Indigenous artists of the 20th century. The sculpture depicts a mother, a daughter and a newborn child, who are isolated from viewers on their own bronze island surrounded by gravel. The College acquired the work in 2007.

Kahl noted that “Peaceful Serenity” is a good example of how the Hood matches works of art to their final locations on campus.

“Houser is a super important and famous Native American sculptor, and so to have him in front of the [Native Americans at Dartmouth] house makes a lot of sense,” she said.

Inuksuk

Peter Irniq, 2007. Stone.

Commissioned by the College, “Inuksuk” was built in front of McNutt Hall by Canadian Inuit artist Peter Irniq in the shape of a cairn, a pile of stones often constructed for good luck or as a natural trail marker in deep woods. Kahl said that it was designed site-specifically to welcome potential students to campus, as for many their first stop is the admissions office. When people leave the building, they can see the Green through the sculpture’s small windows — an indication of their possible future at the College.

Kahl said that the work was reinforced with an iron rod after several incidents of vandalism in the years just after the work was finished, though she noted that there have been no issues since she joined the staff of the Hood several years ago. In fact, Stomberg said that recently the sculpture has become “almost interactive,” with some viewers adding small stones of their own to the pile.

Dartmouth Panels

Ellsworth Kelly, 2012. Painted aluminum. 

Adding a splash of color to the Maffei Arts Plaza, the “Dartmouth Panels” were commissioned for the College by the Black family. Stomberg said that artist Ellsworth Kelly designed them site-specifically for the side of the Hop, and that they are consistent with much of his other work, which focuses on the “joy of pure color.”

Kelly was also interested in the idea of the plaza as a chapel dedicated to the arts; Stomberg said that he was inspired by the arches on the side of the Hop and the idea of stained-glass windows. On rainy days, the reflection of the panels in puddles on the ground invokes the pools of colored light cast by stained-glass windows on the floor of a church.

Perdido

Clement Meadmore, 1978. Cor-Ten steel.

Inspired by a famous jazz piece by the same name, the abstract gestural sculpture “Perdido” stands on a grassy hill alongside East Wheelock street, next to South Fayerweather Hall. The work was given to the College in 2013. Stomberg explained that his predecessor made the rare decision to accept the sculpture due to its “material and method,” as it was the first sculpture in the College’s collection made of cast steel. 

Refuge

Kiki Smith, 2014. Stainless steel.

Kiki Smith’s “Refuge,” located just behind the Shapiro sculpture, is an interesting work in Dartmouth’s collection — Stomberg said that even though the piece is fairly recent, the Hood is unsure whether or not the piece was custom-commissioned specifically for Dartmouth. The piece was included in a gallery show before making its way to Hanover, but its top edge mirrors the roof line of the buildings behind it in such a way that suggests it may have been designed site-specifically.

Stomberg said that the Hood commissioned the piece, which is intentionally by a female artist, in honor of the 40th year of coeducation at Dartmouth. The work shows an image of a hare in a snowstorm, which Stomberg said is “open to interpretation” by viewers — some believe that the sculpture shows the chilly reception the first women students at Dartmouth got upon their matriculation, while others see the work as a story of strength and survival.

Wide Babelki Bowl

Ursula von Rydingsvard, 2007. Cedar.

“Wide Babelki Bowl” is “the new kid on the block,” according to Kahl — the piece, located next to Rollins Chapel, was given as a gift to the College in 2020. The term “babelki” in Polish refers to woolen balls sewn onto sweaters; these fluffy objects are reflected in the sculpture as they pop out of the sides of the wooden bowl.

Unlike a piece like “Thel,” which is site-specific — meaning that it was designed for a specific location — Stomberg said that this sculpture is an example of so-called “plomp art,” or works that can be placed and displayed anywhere. While some in the art world consider “plomp art” a derogatory term, Stomberg said that these works enable Dartmouth to display its pedagogical values on campus.

“When you put public art on campus, you can’t help but feel — correctly — that Dartmouth is behind this, they stand behind the values of this sculpture,” Stomberg said. “You look at the Ursula von Rydingsvard, you’ve got the balance of rationality and irrationality put into a permanent kind of dynamic tension — that’s the Socratic Method right there. Dartmouth stands for that.”

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