Art, and the Art of Repose
By Terri Robertson
We work on a beautiful campus, but sometimes we’re so busy that we forget to stop and enjoy it. Outdoor works of art, like the revolving sculpture garden at Woods Quad or the striking figures that keep watch at the corner of Hackberry Lane and University Boulevard, make us take notice.
“It gives you something else to think about, even if it’s ‘Why the heck did they put something like that there?’ It breaks up your thinking. It gives you a moment for repose,” said Craig Wedderspoon, associate professor of art. There is another benefit to that moment of art-inspired repose: Visiting UA’s outdoor artwork requires walking, and that gets you out of your chair and closer to the recommended goal of 30 minutes of exercise a day.
“Exercising regularly can help you to control weight, reduce health risks, boost energy and promote better sleep,” said Dr. Rebecca Kelly, director of the Office of Health Promotion and Wellness. “The key is to find something you enjoy. The more creative and engaging the activity is, the more likely you are to keep doing it.”
So the next time you need a break from your office, why not put on your walking shoes and explore UA’s outdoor art? The following tour is a little more than 1 mile or about 2,100 steps. Begin and end at Denny Chimes to make a complete loop. See the map below for the locations of each tour stop.
1. The decorative vase in front of the President’s Mansion was given to UA by Jack Warner, a prominent collector of American art who acquired the piece in New York.
2. “Icarus and the Guardian Angels,” by Be Gardiner, is located in Gribbin Park. (On your way there, take the scenic route along the meandering sidewalk in front of Little Hall and through Malone-Hood Plaza.) Much like the mythological Icarus, whose wings of wax melted when he flew too close to the sun, this marble and travertine version has also suffered a fall: Less than a week after the sculpture arrived on campus for the 1991 Alabama Biennial, it was vandalized – a story that made The New York Times.
3. By the Bureau of Mines Building, you’ll see “Pent/La Buidhe Bealltain,” a cast iron and bronze arch by George Beasley. In Irish Gaelic, “La Buidhe Bealltain” translates to “Bright May Day,” referring to the festival we know as May Day.
4. “Walt Whitman Cult Wagon,” the cast-iron, rock-filled boat on wheels located in front of the Sarah Moody Gallery of Art, will be of particular interest to Walt Whitman fans. According to artist Peter Flanary, the piece is “not strictly a depiction of Whitman, but rather a meditation on Whitmanesque poetics in the form of sculpture.”
5. As you enter Woods Quad, you’ll see a painted steel tower on your left. “Homage to Brancusi,” by Billy Lee, was inspired by Constantin Brancusi’s “Endless Column.” Lee’s sculpture may seem simple at first glance, but the repetition can make certain elements appear concave or convex, creating ambiguity and surprise.
6. “Goldie 1971,” by former UA graduate student Joe McCreary, has ties to the history of Birmingham’s Sloss Furnace, which was built before the era of welding technology (hence the rivets). Before Sloss Furnace was shut down in 1971, the last welder to patch a crack in the main furnace signed his work “Goldie 1971.” The iron and steel giant lies on its side, symbolic of the furnace’s closing.
7. The artwork at the center of Woods Quad changes every few years. “Argyle,” an aluminum sculpture by Wedderspoon, is the second piece to be exhibited here. Based on the pattern of traditional Scottish Argyle, the piece explores the three-dimensional qualities of quilts and textiles.
8. “Montgomery Marker,” a cast-bronze sculpture by Wedderspoon, honors two UA alumni, Mary Montgomery and her late husband Robert, for their support of the arts.
9. “Phoenix” by Andrew Arvanetes is located in front of Manly Hall. In this oxidized steel interpretation of the mythological creature, the artist used architectural references, such as an “interior stairwell symbolizing the journey from birth to death,” to move the viewer through the passage of time.
More About UA’s Outdoor Art
Alabama Biennial, founded by UA Professor Emeritus Arthur Oakes, was a juried exhibition of outdoor sculpture held at UA in 1991, 1993 and 1995. Through Professor Oakes’ vision and skill, it gained renown as an important outdoor sculpture exhibition in the South, and in 1995 the event’s purchase award was named for him. The artwork featured in items 2-5 and 9 are purchase award winners from this exhibition.
Several sculptures on this tour (2, 3 and 5) are part the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Our Sculpture project.