Campus sculptures symbolize CWRU traditions

Roxanne Yang, Staff Reporter

During this year’s New Student Orientation, President Barbara R. Snyder told students with great humor that, although following Pokemon Go is a great way to get around campus, it would be nicer to actively go around and explore. One way to do this is to learn about and visit the many artistic sculptures on campus, which are all part of the John and Mildred Putnam Sculpture Collection.

The Putnam Collection was founded in 1981 after it received the sculpture “Snow Fence” by Gene Kangas. The piece can be found outside of the Thwing Center. According to the Putnam Collection website, this sculpture “includes recognizable silhouettes of human figures and animals, reflecting Kangas’s life-long interest in American Folk Art and his exploration of the relationship between craft and art.” Like most other artists whose works are included in the collection, Kangas is a “regional artist,” affiliated with Ohio or one of its neighboring states.

The famous “Ugly Statue” (“Start”) was also one of the first works included in the Putnam Collection. It was created by David E. Davis, a graduate of Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Art. The Ugly Statue is a favorite meeting spot of students who live in the North Residential Village, and a large part of the first-year experience. A popular myth amongst students is that walking under the Ugly Statue will give you bad luck.

Third-year student Jay Muyle appreciates this particular piece of art, however, saying, “I think it symbolizes the beauty of imperfections in Case students.”

CWRU also has a very “special” sculpture, “Spitball,” created by Tony Smith in honor of Congressman Kent Smith of Ohio’s 8th Congressional District. It is probably the most iconic sculpture at this school other than the Ugly Statue. The specialness in the sculpture comes from the fact that student organizations like to use it as a billboard to advertise their events. This campus tradition is introduced to freshmen by orientation leaders.

“I think it’s a very creative way of delivering news to students. I feel like students are more receptive to information presented to them in unorthodox ways,” said Muyle.

However, writing on “Spitball,” or any other sculptures around campus, is not advisable by the Putnam Collection managing team. “It is disrespectful to mark sculpture….” said Evelyn Kiefer, an art historian from the Putnam Collection. According to Kiefer, the chalking has been going on for over 10 years and it has become part of the sculpture’s experience.

“At one point ‘Spitball’ was used as a chalk message memorial to [Dr. Ignacio J. Ocasio]—a beloved professor who passed away unexpectedly,” she said.

Kiefer also pointed out that since there are new students every year, it would take “a fierce annual campaign on the part of the university” to fix it. So nothing has been done because of this difficulty.

The good news is that the chalk used does not harm the statutes. Taping flyers can damage them, but that is not a common practice.

“Sometimes the way viewers respond to a work of art is unexpected and interesting,” Kiefer said. “I think Case’s ‘Spitball’ is a good example of such a phenomenon.”