Students walk past them more times than they probably care to notice. The statues decorating Brown’s campus are landmarks of the University, mentioned on campus tours and representative as lasting symbols of some of the University’s core values. Marcus Aurelius looks over the Ruth Simmons Quadrangle, while Caesar Augustus stands guard on Wriston Quadrangle. The Brown Bear on the Main Green and the Little Bear Fountain next to the Faculty Club evoke the University’s mascot.
Next fall, a new member will be inducted into the Brown bear family. At 14 feet tall and over 8,000 pounds, the bronze Kodiak bear statue will stand on the green in front of the recently constructed Nelson Fitness Center, said Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Art Gallery and member of the Public Art Committee. The installation of the bear, which artist Nick Bibby has named “Indomitable,” is set for October.
New bear on the block
The commission of the new statue arose from efforts by the University’s Percent-for-Art program. Every time the University oversees a building construction or major renovation, the program allocates one percent of the construction budget to adding a piece of artwork to the campus grounds, Conklin said.
“We try to do something that’s relevant to the people who are in the building” that the artwork will commemorate, Conklin said. For the Nelson, a bear was the logical choice.
“We wanted something that is both authoritative and powerful,” said Dietrich Neumann, professor of history of art and architecture and member of the Public Art Committee. As a “symbol of our sportif prowess,” the new bear will not only be “welcoming to incoming teams” but will also “(induce) respect in the visitors,” he said.
Bears are often seen as “being ferocious and fighters, and that’s a good sports mascot,” Conklin said. But she said the bear also represents characteristics of the entire University, such as perseverance and strength.
Though the committee considered “fun bears, goofy bears (and) a lot of different kinds of things,” ultimately “there was interest in having it be a really realistic kind of bear,” she said.
The desire for realism led the committee to hire British artist Nick Bibby — one of the “accurate wildlife artists” the committee identified as candidates — to construct the new statue. “Indomitable” will be a male Kodiak bear, a larger-than-average grizzly bear from the Kodiak Island of Alaska.
“That is the bear that represents Brown,” Conklin said.
The new statue will not be the first of its kind, as a stuffed Kodiak bear already resides in the lobby of Meehan Auditorium.
The University received the stuffed bear in October 1948 after John Monk ’24 and Ronald Kimball ’18 acquired sufficient funds with the help of other alums to purchase the bear, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana. As Kimball’s friend Jack Durrell, the hunter who shot the bear, said at the time, “This bear, a Big Brown … was a fighter in every sense of the word, and should be a credit to Brown University,” according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
Though Bibby is generally modeling the new statue after the bronze Bruno on the Main Green, Conklin said the artist told the committee the “Bruno bear is not anatomically female or male,” an observation based on the statue’s genitalia and size of the head. The bronze Bruno established its territory on the Main Green in 1923, as a gift from the class of 1907.
Herbert Keen, a member of that class, spearheaded efforts to procure donations from alums for the sculpture’s creation. Keen praised the bear’s placement on campus for its “magnificent strength, those qualities of fearlessness, hardihood and resistance to attack which make him a powerful opponent,” according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
‘In Bruno speramus’
Bibby’s “Indomitable” will embody these same characteristics but in a more accurate and realistic depiction.
“He’s very excited about it,” Conklin said. “It’s a large commission for him.”
Bibby will come to Brown to facilitate the statue’s installation and attend the dedication ceremony in the fall.
The statue, which Bibby is currently constructing in England, will arrive by boat and will be lifted with a crane onto the site where it will be “prominently displayed” at the entrance to the athletic complex, Conklin said.
“I like having a bear as a mascot because it can be terrifying and aggressive when you want it to be, but it can also be cute and cuddly,” said Ananya Anand ’13.
The origins of Brown’s mascot date back to 1907, when Theodore Francis Green 1887 displayed a stuffed brown bear head above the arch of a University trophy room, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
In 1923, Keen encouraged students to “follow the example of the bear” because anyone who did so would become “better scholars than those who lack Bruno’s qualities.” Thousands of students have traversed the green since Keen’s time, and the bear is now a landmark for giving directions and a prime backdrop for photo ops. He even made an appearance on select Spring Weekend tanks.
From Rome, with love
Bruno is not the only piece of artwork with a history. The Marcus Aurelius statue on Simmons Quad is modeled after the original by Michelangelo. “I love it because people say it’s the best copy of the Marcus Aurelius — the old Roman professional statue on the Campidoglio in Rome,” Neumann said.
Conklin said the classicist statue “sort of imbues the site with a history and formality.”
“The one in Rome faces West, and ours faces East, and they kind of look at each other across the Atlantic,” Neumann said. He added that this correspondence has additional meaning because Rome and Providence lie on the same line of latitude. “All these statues have an important story to tell,” he said.
Watching over Wriston Quad is the bronze replica of Caesar Augustus, donated to the University in 1906 by Moses Brown Ives Goddard 1854.
Before being moved from its original location in front of Rhode Island Hall, the statue suffered damage from a hurricane in 1938 and lost an arm, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana.
The Little Bear fountain in front of the Faculty Club is inspired by a statue in the formerly German city of Breslau, Poland. Neumann said it represents Brown’s connection to Germany and Poland because a professor who visited the city years ago “fell in love with the statue,” returning to the University with a cast of the bear as a present.
Sculpting the future
Most recently, the Corporation received an anonymous donation of the stainless steel Circle Dance sculpture, modeled after Henri Matisse’s painting “La Danse.”
“They just look really happy,” said Ananya Bhatia-Lin ’16. “It looks like something I would build out of tin foil after I ate a burrito,” she added with a laugh.
The Public Art Committee has two current projects in the works. Vietnam Memorial architect Maya Linn is creating a large marble table to sit outside Hunter Laboratory once it is renovated, Conklin said. The table will feature a relief of Narragansett Bay carved into the surface with water flowing through it, she added.
A slavery memorial by pre-eminent sculptor Martin Puryear is also underway, Neumann said. The Public Art Committee looks for “sculptures that are not just works of art but carry a particular meaning,” Neumann said, citing the historical significance of slavery in Rhode Island as influencing the Puryear commission.
Installations of both sculptures are slated to occur in fall 2014.