You are here
By Karen Nikos-Rose on November 14, 2017

The story of public art on campus: And, what are those Stonehenge things?

This "lunchable" tour will actually take a series of lunches to complete. So put on your walking shoes and get started.

Learning that I had just started an arts blog for UC Davis, a colleague of mine recently asked what the stone-looking sculptures were by the Silo. Could I find that out for him? Turns out Stone Poem, a Stonehenge-like structure near the Silo, was shown at the university’s Nelson Gallery in 1989. Later that year, while the work was being stored in Oakland, it was damaged during the Loma Prieta earthquake. 

The dozen huge stones were installed on campus a few years later with the damaged pieces made part of the artwork.

Luckily, much of the research on public art on campus has already been done. In 2015, a group of industrious art history graduate students wrote and published a guide and map to public art on campus. Unlike some universities, where public art is pretty much concentrated in one place (UCLA's five-acre Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden comes to mind), UC Davis' art is disbursed throughout campus, which it makes it uniquely more accessible to more people and areas of campus, but a guide and map were useful and even necessary.

The guide could use updating now because public art has been added to campus at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, for example, which opened in 2016. Some art also has been moved. This blog post will help you find most of it.

A story, "Guide Puts 'Public' in Art," by Jeffrey Day, of the College of Letters and Science, written two years ago about the grad student project, offers a good summary through 2015.

The 2015 story begins this way:

It’s the rare student or visitor at UC Davis who doesn’t take time to pose for a photo with one of the Eggheads on campus.

But the egg-shaped, giant bronze heads by the longtime faculty member Robert Arneson are only part of the art that can be seen strolling the campus. Art history graduate students Arielle Hardy [most recently on the curatorial staff of the Manetti Shrem], Justina Martino, Piper Milton [an art instructor at Sacramento City College] and Brittany Royer have made these pieces even more accessible by creating the first guide to UC Davis’ public art. 

“We wanted something that would be useful and interesting to a wide audience,” Milton says. “Other than the Eggheads, most people don’t register or engage with the art on campus, and we hope to change that. All of us had an interest in sculpture, space and landscape, so it fulfilled our scholarly goals as well.”

A few sculptures added, moved in past two years

The story, which ran on the UC Davis web site, mentions former art faculty William Wiley's Gong, which is now located beside the Manetti Shrem.  And the guide could not have foretold other public art, such as that in the The Margrit Mondavi Art Garden; the sculptures located in the Manetti Shrem courtyard, Copper Cage, and, Rosemary Place, by Sandra Shannonhouse (a UC Davis grad and widow of Robert

Copper Cage Sculpture
Students perform in and around Sandra Shannonhouse's sculpture, "Rosemary Place," at the Manetti Shrem Grand Opening in November 2016.  UC Davis photo by Karin Higgins.

Arneson), and others. And then there are many pieces people pass each day on campus without really thinking about them. There is a piece by alumnus Arthur G. Schade, "Twin Falls" that stands in front of the museum close to the parking structure. Another one of those works is Fletcher Benton’s "Alphabet D," placed two years ago in the median of Old Davis Road, at the crosswalk, between the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and the Manetti Shrem.

Art meets science

"Portrait of a DNA Sequence," a DNA double-helix sculpture created by artist Roger Berry, hangs in the Life Sciences Building.  A framed explanation also gives a viewer a pretty good science lesson. The sculpture accurately depicts a DNA molecule with a fusion of metal and glass. The work was commissioned by the Division of Biological Sciences, and was made possible through the generosity of Kathleen Behrens, an alumna with both a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and a doctoral degree in microbiology. 


Portrait of DNA Sequence, created by Robert Berry, is difficult not to notice for all passers by. And, its scientifically accurate. UC Davis photo by Gregory Urquiaga

As for a new version of the public art guide, Milton, one of the original authors, welcomes an opportunity to update an new version, she said, if funding becomes available.

Readers who know of other public art on campus that needs explaining, please let us know. Watch for an upcoming post of public art at the UC Davis Sacramento Campus hospitals and other medical buildings.

Related posts: