Two large sculptures introduced on VCU campus
Thursday, Oct. 23, 2008
As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Virginia Commonwealth University is introducing two new sculptures in prominent locations on campus.
“Truth and Beauty,” a work by Lester Van Winkle, VCU professor emeritus of sculpture, and Ross Caudill, VCU adjunct professor of sculpture; and “Tableith,” a work by Charles Ponticello, who received his M.F.A. in sculpture from VCU, both honor the university’s past and provide striking new landmarks for current and future students.
“Truth and Beauty” features two oversized wooden winged desks, made of bronze and stainless steel, which face a large easel with a sketch of Henry H. Hibbs, founder of the Richmond School of Social Economy, which became the Richmond Professional Institute and later VCU. The sculpture is located in the courtyard area between Hibbs Hall and the Anderson Gallery in the Shafer Court area of campus.
Van Winkle, who taught at VCU for almost 40 years, said he envisioned “Truth and Beauty” as a piece that would invite participation by visitors. He said the sculpture is an homage to a classroom – a kind of “transparent classroom.” The oversized desks are elevated to keep visitors’ feet off the ground, eliciting a childlike feeling.
“When I pictured it, I saw it with people standing in it,” Van Winkle said. “Without folks wandering through it doesn’t function the way I want it to. I hope it becomes a very special locale on campus – a place where people congregate, where lovers meet, where people come and contemplate their navel. I hope it’s a special kind of place where visitors feel some sense of what this place is about.”
Van Winkle featured Hibbs in the piece because of an admiration for his work at RPI.
“I think of Richmond as a city of wonderful ghosts, a city that all of these brilliant minds have walked through,” Van Winkle said. “Hibbs is part of that, a wonderful specter whose reputation as an educator and humanist is very enviable.”
“Tableith,” which was created to honor RPI and its connection to VCU, weighs more than 20 tons and includes 51 cast disks stacked atop each other and spiraling upward. Each of the disks is inscribed with historical information or key events from the years 1917-68, when RPI merged with the Medical College of Virginia to form VCU.
“My primary focus is to produce a monumental effect with a sense of awe and respect rather than a ‘stand out’ personal interpretation with imagery that overcomes the purpose,” Ponticello said in an artist’s statement that accompanied the piece during a competition conducted by the RPI Sculpture Committee, which included several RPI alumni.
“Tableith” is located just west of Ginter House, which was known as the Ad Building during RPI’s existence. The building held a particular importance to RPI students, who gathered in front of the building as a meeting place.
William O’Connell, a member of the RPI Sculpture Committee, said the sculpture will serve as a prominent physical reminder of RPI’s legacy at VCU.
“The idea was to create some lasting object that would let people know that there was a precursor to VCU,” O’Connell said. “It’s a way of letting the current students know about the history of their school. It’s an exciting project for the RPI graduates. It will be a very special thing to have something established on campus that will ensure that RPI is always recognized as being part of the university.”