Sculpture on the Oakland University Campus
Note: The research and writing of this page was completed as part of a Oakland University Archives internship during the summer, 2010. Special thanks to Jacky Leow, Oakland University Art Gallery Assistant and Professor Goody, Curator of Oakland University Art Gallery for their assistance with this project.
"When [artists'] work is erected in public places for all to behold, we build an atmosphere and environment. For this reason masterpieces of sculpture, because of their very nature of attracting attention, they evoke admiration. [The artists'] products therefore become great factors in large-scale education and community uplift and pride." Avard Fairbanks (20).
Art is many things and when it is displayed in open spaces, where anyone is welcome to appreciate it, it is the most democratic communique between artist and audience (Miro 1C). Outdoor sculpture has the additional lure of physical interaction with its audience. It is expected that people will touch, children will climb, and weather will, inevitably, take its toll.
Oakland University is fortunate to have a large art collection, including outdoor sculpture. They range from classical in inspiration, to the Modern, to the sentimental. All have impacted the physical landscape shared by students, scholars, and the surrounding community. Their installation on campus has been made possible through relationships between donors, artists and members of Oakland University's administration and staff.
Meadow Brook Hall Garden Statue
Avard T. Fairbanks
The centerpiece of the gardens on the grounds of Meadow Brook Hall is the Colt Pegasus Fountain. Titled Young Pegasus by the sculptor Avard T. Fairbanks, it was modeled after Mrs. Wilson's horse, Sunshine (Survey of Public Monuments in Oakland County).
According to the artist's biography written by his son, Eugene, Avard Fairbanks was born in 1897 in Utah, the tenth of eleven children. His father was an muralist (2). When his father moved to New York City, Avard followed and at a young age, he was copying sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and modelling animals at the Bronx (3).
His formal education began in 1913 at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Artes in Paris, France, when the onset of the Great War made it imperative for him to return home (4). He went to Hawaii to help one of his older brothers on a commission and after his return in 1917, he entered the University of Utah (6).
After completing his studies, he was offered a teaching position at the Univeristy of Oregon to teach sculpture, in 1920 (6). He attended Yale University in 1924 and was awarded a B.F.A. during a leave of absence (7). Fairbanks then traveled to Europe on a Guggenheim fellowship he was awarded and returned to the United States in 1928 to teach at the Seattle Institute of Art (7). In 1929, he moved his family to Ann Arbor to begin teaching at the University of Michigan where he spent 18 years on staff (8).
While living in Ann Arbor, during the automotive industry's rapid growth and importance, Fairbanks made his own contribution. Hood ornaments including the original ram design for the Dodge Motor company, a winged mermaid for the 1930 Plymouth, and a griffin design for Hudson automobiles were of his creation (10).
Fairbanks returned to Utah as Dean of the new College of Fine Arts at the University of Utah in 1947 (11) and continued to work into his eighties (addendum).
Painted steel 12' x 12' x 6'
Another sculpture appeared on Oakland's campus in the late 1970's. Zee, by Michael Todd, was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Kasle in 1977. In an Oakland Press article, Charlotte Stokes, also an OU Art History professor wrote, "The sculpture is bright blue and curls in space like a crumpled letter Z." The sculpture originally was situated in front of Wilson Hall, which houses the Oakland University Art Gallery and Meadow Brook Theatre, but as of June 2010, it has been removed and placed into storage.
Information about the Michael Todd can be found from his website here: http://www.michaeltoddsculpture.com/index.html
The Meadow Brook Invitational: Outdoor Sculpture Competition
On the eastern campus grounds nearest Meadow Brook Hall and what has become the Meadow Brook Festival grounds rest six sculptures. Their existence is the result of the passion and hard work of the Oakland University Art Gallery's (at that time, referred to as the Meadow Brook Art Gallery) Curator, Kiichi Usui, the artists, and the Meadow Brook Gallery Associates.
Made up of influential supporters of the community, the Meadow Brook Gallery Associates, envisioned furthering the school's impact on the community and created a competition for Michigan sculptors. After nearly 10 years of patience, Usui and the Associates announced the competition (Barron). The aim was three-fold. One, was to show the works of new or veteran artists to a large audience (Handleman 1). These large scale models were to receive assistance from the Detroit area's local industries in the building process. Two, it was to create more visual interest in the environment (Usui 50). Lastly, the sculptures were to serve as fundraising tools for the University and the Art Gallery. These sculptures are situated prominently at entrances to campus, near the VIP parking lot and the grounds of the Meadow Brook Music Festival, and on the grounds of Sunset Terrace.
Named the Meadow Brook Invitational: Outdoor Sculpture, six hundred invitations were sent to sculptors in the Michigan Art Registry (Usui 43). There were seventy-six applicants (43) which was then whittled down to 14 semi-finalists. These semi-finalists then exhibited scale models, or maquettes, in the Oakland University Art Gallery for the public to view (43). After the exhibit, these maquettes were photographed on their proposed site of the Meadow Brook Festival grounds to provide a more accurate visual representation of each works' final impact (43). Six winners were then chosen to have their visions realized with the help of sponsorship from area corporations (43).
Painted steel. 15'x15'x15'.
One Invitational winner and Midwestern artist is David Barr. His Sunset Cube, shown below, is located on the Festival grounds, the hillside at the fork in the road, between the Meadow Brook Hall riding stables and Sunset Terrace.
Barr received both his B.F.A. in 1962 and his M.F.A. in 1965 from Wayne State University (Usui 44). He has retired from his teaching position at Macomb Community College, a position he held from 1965-2002 (Barr).
His early prominence as an artist in the local community is displayed with commissions for the Fairlane Town Center in Dearborn, the campus of Macomb Community College, and in Detroit, at the Renaissance Center (Usui 44). Since the Invitational in 1981, his work can be seen locally, nationally, and internationally (Barr) .
The sculpture, along with his Structurist Sculpture No. 11 were donated by George and Barbara Erb.
Another sculpture chosen to be included on the grounds of Oakland University is Day Star, by artist Sydney Atkinson. Living in Flint at the time, he grew up in Georgia, completing his B.F.A. in sculpture at the Atlanta School of Art (Usui 44). He moved to Michigan and studied at Cranbrook Academy of Art with the Head of the Sculpture department, Michael Hall, where he completed his M.F.A. (Usui 44).
His piece was sponsored by a Flint company, Skyline Structures, a division of Anderson "Safeway" Guard Rail Corporation (Usui 44).
Here is his website for further information: http://syd-art.com/index.html
Rhythm and Variations
The only female included in the winners of the Invitational is Hanna Stiebel. Born in Israel, she came to the United States to study in New York with Martha Graham, after completing an undergraduate degree (Usui 50). Martha Graham encouraged Stiebel to express her creative energies into visual art (50). She then attended the New School for Social Research in New York, then moved to Michigan to attend Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she completed both a B.F.A. and M.F.A (50). She continued post-master work at Wayne State University and the University of Florence in Italy (50).
Her piece was a commission by Mr. and Mrs. James Fitzpatrick, with the materials supplied by the Reynolds Aluminum Company (50). Fabrication was done in Pontiac, at Oakland Welding Industries (50).
4 cubes. 32"x22"x19".
An Oakland University alumnus also was included in the winners of the Invitational. Tom Bills, a Michigan native, graduated from Oakland in 1974, and went on to study in New York in the Whitney Independent Study Program in 1975 (Usui 46). He then completed his M.F.A. in 1978 at Yale University's School of Art (46). Bills was also a National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient in 1980-1981 (46). The cement pieces were sponsored by the Shuert Industries of Troy (46).
Joy Colby, the art writer for The Detroit News describes Bills as "an uncompromising artist who makes blunt, squat shapes with a quiet presence . . . The works are successful because they're physical and lucid in the way they are made. They command their piece of space" (6H).
Since his work has been on display on campus, Bills has continued to be exhibited locally, nationally and internationally (Don Soker Gallery website). In 2000, he was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship (Don Soker Gallery website). He is represented by the Don Sokor gallery in San Francisco and more information can be found at their website: http://www.donsokergallery.com/index.html
Currently, Bills teaches at University of California at Davis (Don Soker Gallery website).
Midwest Sweep Series
Painted steel. 24'x12'x20'
A well-known and long-standing member of Detroit's art scene, John Piet was also a winner of the first Meadow Brook Invitational in 1981. He earned his B.F.A. from the Center for Creative Studies, when it was known as the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, in 1972 and completed his M.F.A. at Wayne State University a year later (Usui 48). Telegraph Exchange, Midwest Sweep Series, was sponsored by the J&J Burning Company, the Budd Company and the Gale Group (48). They sponsored the fabrication, materials, and installation assistance, respectively (48). Piet has a long list of national accolades and has been honored internationally as well. His website and resume are available here: http://johnpiet.net/main.html
Painted steel. 15' tall.
The last sculpture to be featured as part of the Meadow Brook Invitational is an untitled work by a Professor of Sculpture at Michigan State University at the time, Mel Leiserowitz. He made a career change from journalism, public relations and entrepreneurship before he dedicating himself to sculpture in the late 1950's (Usui 46). He earned his Master's degree in 1964 from the University of Iowa (46). Leiserowitz's resume and statement regarding his art can be found on the website he shares with his wife, Nancy, here: https://www.msu.edu/~leisero1/index.html
Contracts were drawn and each of the six works were on loan from the artist for a period of three years (Usui 50). This period of time was to allow for individuals or corporations to purchase the works for their private enjoyment or donation to a public institution (50). Unfortunately, an economic recession soon posed problems for the purchase of these pieces by outside members of the community and for the University. Enough grant monies and donations were raised by 1986 to transfer the title of the sculptures from artist to University (Board of Directors). Economic strife is what also brought about the existence of the Meadow Brook Art Gallery Associates. This group has been instrumental in bringing not only the sculpture onto campus, but helping fund all of the exhibitions at the gallery and making a name for Oakland University in the art world. Their backing of the Meadow Brook Invitational I: Sculpture exhibit made headlines nationwide in art circles and has elevated local artists to become nationally known. It led to a second invitational specifically for painters. Despite the never-ending quest for funds in the Arts community and the ability and effort to maintain outdoor sculpture sometimes lacking, the impact of Oakland's Meadow Brook Invitational I: Sculpture was positive--the idea spread to other scholastic institutions and neighboring communities. Correspondence between Kiichi Usui and the head of the Art Department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, more than five years after the Invitational, proves outside interest (White). Louis Redstone, an architect and author, hosted a project similar to the Invitational with the City of Southfield and the Business Consortium for the Arts in both 1987 and 1989 (Redstone and Ossman). Notable designs of Redstone's include the now closed Berry International Terminal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport (seen in the film Up in the Air, directed by Jason Reitman) and Hamlin Hall, Pryale House and Anibal and Fitzgerald Halls on campus (Emporis; Smitley). Oakland's sculpture park was even named "The Best Surreal Setting" and appeared in the list of the The Very Best of Detroit compiled by Metropolitan Detroit Magazine in February 1985.
Additional Works on Campus
The members of the Associates are passionate art collectors. Their love of art and their contacts with artists has continued to create an environment nurturing area artists. Local artists who call the Detroit area their home, or have at one point in their lives, are still being featured prominently on campus.
One local artist has two outdoor sculptures located on campus. Joseph Wesner's Motherswell and Echo Cognitio are more recent additions to the Oakland University collection. Wesner was educated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Before his untimely death, he was the Chair of the Sculpture department at the Center for Creative Studies (Joseph Wesner at Mid-Career). Motherswell was moved from the Center for Creative Studies and installed in front of South Foundation Hall in September of 1988 (Fuoco).
A donation to the Honors College on campus by Ann and Jim Nicholson, Echo Cognitio sits in front of the College's entryway. Ann Nicholson, who was the Board of Trustees vice chair and her husband hoped for the work to become a symbol of the Honors College's "unique identity" and that "it will give a lot of pleasure to Oakland students for generations to come" (Inside Oakland).
Wesner has said of his art that: "Meaning is the essential concern in my sculpture. Within the parameters of welded and painted steel I attempt to create sculptures that affirm the celebration of life . . . It is [the] search for the essence of life's celebrative joy as shared in the creative experience to which my sculptures aspire."
The most recent addition to the outdoor sculpture collection on campus is a piece by Sharon Que. Resound, currently undergoing repair at the Art Gallery, was located outside the west entrance of Varner Hall as a part of the Varner Memorial Garden courtyard (News @ OU). It was her largest work attempted (Que 21).
An interview between the artist and the Oakland University Art Gallery Curator for the 2003 exhibition Retrofit, they discuss the traits and work ethic of a native Detroiter. She also mentions her first art instructor in college having been John Piet, the sculptor of Telegraph Exchange (Que 4). After graduation from the University of Michigan with her B.F.A, Magna Cum Laude, in 1982, she earned an Associate's Degree in 1986 from Macomb Community College in Manufacturing Engineering (Que 23). While working in the skilled trade of wooden model making at GM, she was also establishing herself as an artist (Que 5). In addition to her sculptural pursuits, she repairs and makes violins (Que 20). For further information, her website can be found here: http://sharonque.com/index.html
Cor-Ten steel. 1994.
A sculpture by David Scott also appears on campus, in the courtyard of Wilson Hall. Donated as an untitled work by the artist, the Erb family, and with help from Oakland University Chemistry professor Dr. Brieger in 1994, it has since been named The Burghers (Press Release 1; OU Art Gallery Inventory). Scott has had experience doing many things, including being a telephone lineman, a clay modeler, and a metal model maker (Press Release 2). He has also studied at Oakland University (Press Release 3).
Structurist Sculpture No. 11
Arriving on campus at the same time as The Burghers was a second sculpture by David Barr, entitled Structurist Sculpture No. 11. Both sculptures were originally installed in the high traffic area in front of the Oakland Center, in between North and South Foundation Halls, but now reside in the courtyard of Wilson Hall (Press Release 1). Barr has said of this sculpture that, "there is an apparent randomness to it, but in reality, there isn't. It is its own reality, coming from the invisibility and reality of nature. I make the invisible visible" (Press Release 1). The sculpture was donated by George and Barbara Erb.
Istva'n Mate and
Another sculpture, recognized both for its sentimental and artistic value, is the work of Hungarian sculptors Istva’n Ma’te and Gyorgyi Lantos. Parents of former OU swimmer Hunor Ma'te, their sculpture has been adopted as Oakland University's mascot, the Grizz (News @ OU). Unveiled in September of 2006, the bronze sculpture weighs nearly one ton and stands eight feet tall (News @ OU).
Information about the sculptors can be found at their website: http://lantos-mate.com/
Regarding the sculpture on OU's campus, the late Dr. John Cameron, said the following:
"There is something about modern sculpture that works in a popular sense, which painting certainly does not have, and even perhaps so, architecture. To make a major statement in architecture is very difficult, but even with limited resources we can make such major statements in sculpture, and I urge that [the University] pursue the goal of civilizing and humanizing [the] architectural environment in which we function."
Barr, David. David Barr. Curriculum vitae. Web. 26 Aug. 2010.
Barron, S. Brooks. Letter to Kiichi Usui. 23 Mar. 1972. Print.
Building Histories. OU Archives Site.
Cameron, John B, Memo to Brian P. Copenhaver, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences, Oakland University, 26 Oct 1984. Print.
"Center for Champions, Grizz statue unveiled." The News @ OU. 11 Sept. 2006. Web. 26 Aug. 2010.
Colby, Joy. "The figure in wood, bronze ... and neon?" Detroit News 10 Feb. 1985: 6H. Print.
Executive Board of Directors, Meadow Brook Gallery Associates. Meeting minutes, 19 Aug. 1986. Typed transcription. Print.
Fairbanks, Eugene. The life and work of Avard T. Fairbanks, Sculptor. OU Archives. Print.
"The finishing touch: Echo Cognitio." Inside Oakland. Nov. 1999. Print.
Fuoco, Christina. "Artist donates sculpture." The Oakland Post. 12 Sept. 1988. Print.
Handleman, Marion. Foreward. Meadow Brook Invitational II; Painting, 1983. 1. Print.
"Joseph Wesner at Mid-Career." Press release. Meadow Brook Art Gallery. 1996. Print.
"Meadow Brook Invitational: Outdoor Sculpture, 1981." Project summary. 1981. Print.
"Michael Berry International Terminal." Emporis. Web. 26 Aug 2010.
Miro, Marsha. "Eye-popping public art explored." Detroit Free Press 13 Nov. 1980: 1C, 5C)
"People enjoying new Varner Memorial Garden." The News @ OU. 4 October 2002. Print.
Press release, regarding two Erb family outdoor sculpture donations. Meadow Brook Art Gallery. n.d. Print.
Que, Sharon. "Interview Sharon Que" (interview by Dick Goody(2003)). Retrofit, exhibiton catalog, Meadow Brook Art Gallery, 2003. Print.
Redstone, Louis G. and Ossman, R. Thomas, to undisclosed business and community leaders. 10 Nov. 1988. Typed transcript. Print.
Smitley, Al. "Building Histories, Part I." Oakland University Building Histories. Oakland University. 1985. Web. 26 Aug. 2010.
Stokes, Charlotte. "Hall exhibit celebrates outdoor sculpture". Oakland Press 26 Oct. 1980: G2. Print.
"University buys sculptures." OU News, January 17, 1986, p. 2
"The Very Best of Detroit." Metropolitan Detroit Magazine Feb 1985: 61. Print.
Usui, Kiichi. "Meadow Brook Invitational: Outdoor Sculpture." Meadow Brook Music Festival Program, 1981: 43-50. Print.
Wesner, Joseph. Bronze and Steel exhibition, Minnesota Museum of Art. Nov. 1985. Print.
White, Alan. Letter to Kiichi Usui. 26 Sept. 1988. Typed transcript. Print.
Oakland University, Kresge Library
2200 N Squirrel Rd., Rochester, MI 48309
(248) 370 - 4426