UC Davis Honors Its Iconic Eggheads and Arts Heritage

Campus Marks 30th Anniversary of Robert Arneson’s Creations With Egghead Merchandise, Museum Display, Special Events

Bookhead Egghead shot in front of library at UC Davis with students, in blur, walking by
Students walk by Bookhead, the first of the Egghead Series of five installations on the UC Davis campus created by the late Robert Arneson that were installed between 1991 and 1994. The Eggheads and Arneson’s work are being celebrated this year on the 30th anniversary of the last installation. (UC Davis photo)

The edgy and expressive works of the late sculptor Robert Arneson can be found at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and many other museums and galleries throughout the world. Eight of his pieces line the walls at Shields Library on the University of California, Davis, campus where Arneson taught art for three decades.

But to students and alumni of UC Davis, Arneson’s most enduring legacy is the outsized, eggshell-colored Egghead sculptures on campus that they love, hug, and pose with in their caps and gowns at commencement — and on ordinary days, too.

UC Davis Band member play their instruments and rub the Egghead for good luck.
Members of the UC Davis marching band play their instruments and rub the Bookhead for good luck during final exams in fall 2023. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The sculptures on five central sites are part of the lore of the 5,300-acre campus, bringing everything from good luck during exams (kiss or rub the Bookhead) to a watchful eye on campus administrators (Eye on Mrak (Fatal Laff)). The Egghead Series exemplifies Arneson’s humorous take on serious subjects, as well as his vital role in the California Funk art movement that was incubated at UC Davis before reaching a global audience.

Graduate poses with Eye On Mrak (Fatal Laff)
​ Ana Patricia Panaligan with Eye on Mrak (Fatal Laff) Egghead during undergraduate portrait session in 2023. Panaligan graduated with a degree in design. (UC Davis photo) ​

Throughout 2024 — 30 years after the final Eggheads were installed — UC Davis will commemorate this art heritage through a series of events, a special lobby display at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, and a new line of Egghead-themed products that enable anyone to wear or take a piece of Arneson home with them.

“We are excited to celebrate the artistic legacy and impact of the Eggheads,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May. “Professor Arneson’s sculptures are an indelible part of campus life and a reminder of the power of public art to build community.”

Products and an interactive website go live today (April 1) followed by special events at the museum and beyond Thursday, April 4. A portion of proceeds from the sales of Egghead merchandise go toward the restoration and preservation of The Egghead Series.

wood cutting board branded with Egghead insignia
Merchandise being sold in the Year of the Eggheads. (UC Davis)

Eggheads as campus icon

“It is unique that the UC Davis community has adopted a work of art as the symbol of our university,” said Rachel Teagle, founding director of the Manetti Shrem Museum. “Over the years, the Eggheads have taken on a life of their own and mean different things to different people, but ultimately reflect UC Davis’ values of freedom of speech and critical thought.”

The Egghead Series, installed at five sites during the 1990s, consists of the following. They are listed from where one sees the first Egghead in front of Mrak Hall, to the library, to sites near campus buildings.

Full walking instructions

  • See No Evil/Hear No Evil in the traffic circle across from the School of Law’s King Hall (installed in May 1994 and moved to current location in November 2009 when King Hall constructed an addition)
  • Eye on Mrak (Fatal Laff) on the north side of Mrak Hall, installed May 1994
  • Bookhead, in front of Peter J. Shields Library (the first of the sculptures, installed in October 1991; unlike the others, it is light blue)
  • Yin & Yang, in front of Wright Hall, installed September 1992
  • Stargazer, east of North Hall and south of Young Hall, installed May 1994

Arneson, who died of cancer in 1992, chose to base the sculptures on the motif of “egghead,” the slang term denoting intellectuals in general and academics in particular. They all reflect the powerful influence of the world, politics and UC Davis on his art. The site-specific works were commissioned by the then Campus Art in Public Places Work Group with private funds.

Robert Arneson Stands by the bronze Bookhead before it is installed.
​Robert Arneson with full-size clay mockup of Bookhead at Walla Walla Foundry. (Copyright 1991, Estate of Robert Arneson/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY)

Arneson’s widow, Sandy Shannonhouse, a sculptor and UC Davis alum, said Arneson would have enjoyed all the ways in which the Eggheads are being enjoyed today. 

“My family and I are thrilled that Bob’s legacy as an artist and as a professor at UC Davis are being honored today in ways that he would appreciate,” she said. “He had a tremendous sense of humor, and used humor to address critical political and social issues and encouraged his students to do the same.

“Above all, he always soaked up the knowledge, the culture and the spirit the university had to offer, and I hope students and faculty and everyone in the university community can take something from that.”

The Eggheads described

The works depict Eggheads working, playing, resting and conversing. A 1994 UC Davis news release described the installations that year:

One is an Egghead that will lie on its back on a hill near Young Hall, looking toward the sky with a contemplative expression. Another is an Egghead that is upside-down, located just north of Mrak and facing towards Shields Library, with an incised eye looking toward the fifth floor of Mrak with a strong grimace that could be interpreted as laughter or pain. Finally, two Eggheads will be installed east of the law school, leaning backwards slightly, as if having a debate, but neither has ears. …

Manetti Shrem Museum display

As part of the Egghead celebration, the Manetti Shrem Museum will showcase Arneson’s early models of the Eggheads in its lobby. Most of these models, known as maquettes, have never been shown before. Mounted near the large front windows, the display will be visible even when the museum is closed. Photos and stories submitted by Aggies about their memories and moments with the sculptures will accompany the Egghead models.

Hatched: The Making of Robert Arneson’s Eggheads” will be on view from April 1 to June 16.

Media Resources

Media Contacts:

  • Karen Nikos-Rose, News and Media Relations, 530-219-5472, kmnikos@ucdavis.edu
  • Laura Compton, Communications Specialist, Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, llcompton@ucdavis.edu
  • James Nash, News and Media Relations director, jnash@ucdavis.edu, 530-219-0943

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