The Lasting Legacy of Arneson’s Eggheads

Kirk Arneson touches Bookhead sculpture
Kirk Arneson lays a hand on Bookhead, the first Egghead sculpture created by his late father, Robert Arneson, during a campus celebration last week. (Whitney Howard/UC Davis)

The rain just rolled off the shells of members of the campus community Thursday (April 4) and didn’t stop them from gathering to celebrate some of UC Davis’ most iconic public art: Robert Arneson’s Eggheads.

The sculptures, the last of which was installed 30 years ago this year, are being commemorated with events marking 2024 as the Year of the Eggheads, like a museum display, licensed merchandise and more.

“The Eggheads are alive and well on our campus,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, where the Eggheads feature prominently in the lobby and in photos on lobby windows.

They have taken on a prominent role at UC Davis, she said, noting their place as unofficial mascots. Teagle said she hasn’t found any other university where pieces of public art are embraced so wholeheartedly.

That support for the arts dates back to the 1960s, when Arneson was first hired to teach in a nascent department and given wide latitude to experiment and hone his craft.

Kirk Arneson, one of his sons, recalled a time when then-Chancellor Emil Mrak and John Tupper, founding dean of the future School of Medicine, were walking around campus and opened a door to find Arneson hard at work sculpting a toilet.

Instead of expressing shock at the art, they offered support to its creator, Kirk Arneson said.

“Being hired here and having that freedom — he blossomed,” Kirk Arneson said. “He loved Davis. It meant a lot for my dad to leave public art on this campus.”

Sandy Shannonhouse looks at Egghead photos
Sandy Shannonhouse, Robert Arneson’s widow and an artist herself, looks at Egghead photos submitted by alumni. (Alysha Beck/UC Davis)
Kirk Arneson looks at newspaper clippings
Kirk Arneson examines clippings from The California Aggie newspaper focused on his father, Robert Arneson. (Alysha Beck/UC Davis)

Celebration continues

Signs of the celebration are all over campus, from new descriptive plaques near the five Egghead installations directing visitors to a new website to brightly colored decals helping visitors find their locations.

The anniversary is also being marked with a collection of licensed Egghead merchandise available online and on campus — the first time Eggheads have been available on shirts, tote bags, socks, posters and more.

The first item purchased in the Manetti Shrem Museum’s pop-up shop was a bucket hat that Teagle bought as a gift for Randy Roberts, the museum’s deputy director.

“It’s thrilling to be the first,” Roberts said. “I’ve been watching it all develop … It’s great to see it come to fruition and look so great.”

That pop-up store, in the museum’s lobby, also features items like a scarf, jewelry and a neon sign shaped like Eye on Mrak (Fatal Laff). The store is open noon to 5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Egghead maquettes
Egghead maquettes are on display at the Manetti Shrem Museum of Art for the first time ever. (Alysha Beck/UC Davis)

A few steps away, also in the museum lobby, is “Hatched: The Making of Robert Arneson's Eggheads,” a new display featuring Arneson’s original, small-scale Egghead prototypes — maquettes — that are being shown for the first time ever.

Rachel Teagle talks to Ginny Duncan
Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Manetti Shrem Museum, talks with Ginny Duncan, curatorial assistant. (Alysha Beck/UC Davis)

Kirk Arneson said aside from members of his family, the only people who had ever seen them before were employees of the Walla Walla Foundry in Washington that cast the full-scale Eggheads. Since then, they’ve been sitting in a warehouse covered by plastic sheets, he said.

“You can actually see Arneson’s hand in them,” said Ginny Duncan, the curatorial assistant at the Manetti Shrem Museum who led the creation of the “Hatched” display.

She said that seeing them underscored to her that Arneson was foremost a ceramicist, despite the bronze Eggheads being one of his most prominent lasting legacies.

That legacy is showcased on the museum’s exterior walls through dozens of Egghead photos through the years. 

The power of art

Elsewhere on campus Thursday, shoppers browsed apparel and home goods in the Campus Store in the Memorial Union.

“We should get this for our apartment,” a student said to another, gesturing to a wall clock bearing Arneson’s signature and an illustration of Bookhead, the sculpture featured outside Shields Library that was the site of one of two nighttime gatherings that literally shone spotlights on two of the Eggheads for the first time.


Inside the library, archival photos and California Aggie newspaper clippings showcase the Eggheads’ history.

At an evening reception Thursday at the Manetti Shrem Museum, Sandy Shannonhouse, Arneson’s widow and a sculptor and UC Davis alum, reflected on her late husband’s ironic sensibilities as well as the transformational power of art.

“I'm here to tell you it changed my life,” she said.  “I came here thinking I was going to be a chemistry student.”

She also offered advice for the students in attendance.

“Find yourself, because whether you're making art or doing something else, it all comes from in here,” she said, gesturing to her heart.

Decal on ground shows map of Egghead locations
New maps point visitors to the location of the Eggheads. (Alysha Beck/UC Davis)

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is the editor of Dateline UC Davis and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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