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Thackurdeen Memorial, Kurt Wulfmeyer, in collaboration with the Thackurdeen family

Art and Nature Thus Allied

Treasures beyond the horticultural abound on Swarthmore’s campus

Shortly after Parrish Hall opened its doors on rolling farmland in 1869, nearby Philadelphia was busy enhancing its fledgling Fairmount Park with statuary. Nearly a century later, Swarthmore began acquiring its own outdoor sculptures, coinciding with a resurgence of interest in the subject in Philadelphia. As the city passed a landmark law requiring a percentage of building budgets to support public art, large-scale, abstract sculptures proliferated.

Nearly a century later, Swarthmore began acquiring its own outdoor sculptures, coinciding with a resurgence of interest in the subject in Philadelphia. As the city passed a landmark law requiring a percentage of building budgets to support public art, large-scale, abstract sculptures proliferated.

So it’s appropriate that today, the sharp-eyed traveler arriving at Swarthmore on the train from Philadelphia immediately encounters one such sculpture. Slide Rock, a monumental bent-steel piece reminiscent of the nearby tracks, was given to the College in 1988. Ringed by trees, it often serves as a secret climbing structure for delighted children.

Proceeding up Magill Walk, the visitor passes three more sculptures of varying visibility before spotting a white beacon on the hill, the welcoming and well-loved Adirondack Chair. 

Have some fun searching campus for the artistic treasures shown on these pages. Chances are you’ll make at least one or two new discoveries, hiding in plain sight.

A tour of campus art

1. Urn

Harry Bertoia (Italian-American, 1915-1978)

This small, flat bronze sculpture, suggestive of a funerary urn, almost disappears into the stone wall against which it is set. Creator Harry Bertoia was prolific in many media, including painting, drawing, monoprints, and metalwork. He enjoyed a very successful career in midcentury modern furniture design, working with Charles Eames on bent plywood chairs and the Knoll Co., for which he designed an eponymous iconic wire furniture collection, continuously produced since 1952. Later, Bertoia focused on three-dimensional artwork, including sounding sculptures and architectural installations, producing many pieces in his Pennsylvania studio that are now found in museums nationwide. 

Urn was donated to the College at the suggestion of Phillip A. Bruno, an art dealer whose support includes an endowment for Swarthmore’s permanent art collection. 


2.  Landscape Wall 

Massey Burke ’00 (American, b. 1978)

This project highlights strong environmental interest on campus. Designed and built by Massey Burke in conjunction with members of a College art class and other campus community members, it is constructed of materials recycled from the Scott Arboretum. 


3. Back From Rio

Alexander Calder (American, 1898–1976)

Alexander Calder is most famous for his moving sculptures. His enormous Philadelphia Museum of Art mobile is symbolically located third in line down the city’s Parkway from his father’s Logan Circle fountains and his grandfather’s iconic William Penn statue atop City Hall. 

Swarthmore’s own Calder stabile-mobile was moved to its current location after refurbishment to improve views from all angles of its naturally changing design. 


4. Garnet

Robert Murray (Canadian, b. 1936)

In 1966, Donald Lippincott, son of an alumni matchbox couple, became the first American steel fabricator to deal exclusively with large-scale sculpture, working with such well-known artists as Louise Nevelson and Claes Oldenburg. Sculptor Robert Murray, another of Lippincott’s clients, is recognized for his large, bent, colorful steel pieces. 


5. Adirondack Chair (aka “The Big Chair”)

Jake Beckman ’04 (American, b. 1982)

This much-loved, whimsical sculpture is the only
portable one on campus. Perhaps due to the
strongly interactive nature of the “Big Chair,” many are surprised to learn that it is a piece of artwork. 

A sense of the unexpected characterizes this 2002 piece of oversized stealth art, rolled out during exam week to the delight of the general population.

Jake Beckman, whose career as a sculptor and teacher is still informed by his scientific interests and manipulation of scale, also built a wall clock in the Science Center, constructed partly of pipes and called Flow of Time.


6. Thackurdeen Memorial (pictured above)

Kurt Wulfmeyer (American, b. 1969)

In collaboration with the Thackurdeen family Swarthmore’s most recent piece of outdoor sculpture, a memorial to Ravi Thackurdeen ’14, was dedicated in June 2015 and given by his family. The result of close collaboration between the artist/fabricator and the Thackurdeens, the 5-foot-diameter sphere is intended to “glow from the inside,” as the family requested. It is made of bronze plate cut in the shape of actual botanical samples that Ravi had enjoyed collecting for a course. 


7. Sappho

Alekos Kyriakos (Greek, b. 1937)

Mysterious, hollow Sappho is the College’s only anthropomorphic sculpture. Both this piece and the Calder arrived on campus in 1967, when Sappho was installed near the then recently-built dining hall. She was donated by Nicholas K. Braun ’39, whose proficiency in six languages included classical Greek. Though holding advanced degrees in law and history, he made his fortune in high-end women’s handbags. 

This Sappho is an enlarged version of its Athens-trained sculptor’s original model, an accommodation that was made to fit the current campus site.


8. Red Steelroot

Steve Tobin (American, b. 1957)

This spidery sprig of red pops up in the courtyard of Alice Paul, echoed by crimson walls in the stairwell of David Kemp Hall.

Maverick sculptor Steven Tobin has been exploring the visual idea of roots and their many metaphors for years. Tobin’s most famous bronze is his self-financed Trinity Root, an enormous copy of the roots of a tree that protected New York’s historic St. Paul’s church during the devastation of 9/11. Swarthmore’s own “root” iteration was donated anonymously to the College by a member of Scott Associates in 2010. 


9. Slide Rock
David Stromeyer (American, b. 1946)

Sculptor David Stromeyer loves the malleability of steel, which is contrasted in this sculpture with the natural form of rock, found in abundance on his large northern Vermont property. He recently opened a free art park at his studio, siting many of his colorful large-scale sculptures in open meadows. Slide Rock was created in 1978 and given to the College by art patron Margaret Burden, whose own father was a successful sculptor, producing many representational statues of famous American historical figures.