Tag Archives: Teaching projects

Project from Spring 2017: Greg Wyatt, Scholars’ Lion

The following post was written by Juan Alvarez, a student in the “Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard” undergraduate seminar in Spring 2017. This excerpt from his research paper discusses Columbia’s famous lion mascot and the sculpture of the lion near the entrance to the Dodge Fitness Center, installed on campus in 2004.

Greg Wyatt, Scholars’ Lion

Written by Juan D. Alvarez; edited by Roberto C. Ferrari

Columbia’s sculpture of the Scholars’ Lion by Greg Wyatt stands on a large granite pedestal and faces East. It is a larger-than-life walking lion made in bronze. With his eyes wide open, the lion is patrolling his territory. The so-called “King of the Jungle” walks on massive, even oversized, paws that demonstrate its potential for violence while maintaining a focused and calm demeanor. His mouth is open, exposing razor-sharp canines to warn those who would threaten him. Yet, there is a grace to the figure, and a feeling of awe may overcome the viewer after just a few moments of contemplating this sculpture of Columbia’s mascot.

From the cave paintings in Chauvet, France to the lion hunt reliefs of Assyrian king Ashurnasipal II, man has been obsessed with the image of this animal to express power, strength, virility, and divine right. The decision to make the lion the mascot for Columbia may seem obvious, and if asked the majority of students might assume it was adopted at the time of the school’s founding in 1754. The truth is that Columbia had no mascot until April 1910, when the Columbia Alumni Association voted and finally passed a motion making the lion the official mascot.[1] At the same event, a banner in blue and white with a rampant lion was presented to Pres. Nicholas Murray Butler by George Brokaw Compton (CC’09 and Law ’13). But the rampant lion was not popular with all students and the new mascot had its challengers. Runner up for the prestigious position was a feral goat that roamed the campus grounds and was named “Matilda the Harlem Goat.” In a letter to the editor of Columbia Alumni News, an anonymous writer argued for the goat, saying that it called Morningside its home just like the University.[2] Others were not so much opposed to the lion but rather the connection of the rampant lion to the British royal family. They wanted instead a symbol that was more in line with America, like the eagle.[3]

By 1924, however, the lion was firmly in place as the mascot for the school when the Class of 1899 took on the task of making the lion’s presence official for their 25th reunion (and Columbia’s 170th anniversary) by presenting a bronze lion to the University to be placed on a rocky outcropping at Baker Field, overlooking the football practice field. American animalier sculptor Frederick Roth was commissioned to sculpt the lion and McKim, Meade & White the pedestal.[4]  Roth was selected because of his artistic credentials, including being the president of the National Sculpture Society and the sculptor of the Princeton Tiger.[5] On June 4, 1924 the Columbia Lion was presented with great fanfare by Pres. Butler, standing on its rocky outcropping.[6] It was later moved to ground-level at Baker Field where it stands today.

Eighty years later, the sculptor Greg Wyatt brought the Scholars’ Lion to Columbia. Wyatt attended Columbia College like his father, Stanley Wyatt (CC’43 and GSAS’47), and graduated with a major in Art History in 1971.[7] The elder Wyatt was a member of the faculty teaching fine arts.[8] The younger Wyatt currently is sculptor-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Devine, where his most famous public outdoor sculpture, Peace Fountain, can be seen. The sculptor was commissioned by the Class of 1996 to create a bronze lion for the Morningside campus, with additional funds provided by the Classes of ’71 and ’95.[9] One member of the committee wrote:

For far too long, Columbia students have had to sustain the lion’s spirit in their hearts without the inspiration of a tangible image on campus. Now that roaring gap is being redressed. Greg’s work will no doubt provide a new, mane focus for campus life. We may longer be King’s College, but we can still celebrate the “King of the Jungle.”[10]

Wyatt produced multiple sketches and at least two models, the first versions of which were described as being too anthropomorphic and lacking in ferocity. Wyatt responded with more drawings and worked the models tirelessly, finally settling on the depiction seen today, with the lion walking and his mouth open, exposing his teeth.[11] The original site for the sculpture was supposed to be outside John Jay Hall, but University Administration decided instead that the sculpture should mark the entrance to the Dodge Fitness Center because of the mascot’s ties to athletics. On April 7, 2004, Scholars’ Lion was unveiled in a public ceremony that coincided with Columbia’s 250th anniversary.[12]


[1]Leo Columbiae,” Columbia Alumni News, April 20, 1910, Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, Columbia University, p. 4.

[2] Ibid., p. 8.

[3] “Comment,” Columbia Alumni News, April 13, 1910, p.1.

[4] George S. Hellman to William Mitchell Kendall, Esq., June 7, 1923, Curatorial File: C00.706, Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

[5] Ernest A. Cardozo, “The Origins of Leo Columbiae,” in Columbian Yearbook 1929, Rare Book and Manuscripts Library, Columbia University, pp. 34-37; John William Robson, A Guide to Columbia University (New York: Columbia University Press, 1937), p. 196.

[6] “A Glorious Twenty-Fifth Anniversary,” Columbia Alumni News, June 1924, p. 509.

[7] Shira Boss, “The Scholarly Artist,Columbia College Today (Summer 2016), available online: https://www.college.columbia.edu/cct/issue/summer16/article/scholarly-artist.

[8] Ibid.

[9]Comments attached to Angela Giral to Jonathan Cole, July 25, 1997, Curatorial File: 2004.1, Art Properties, Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

[10] Joshua Rubenstein to Greg Wyatt, April 28, 1998, ibid.

[11] Johnathan O. Mirian, “A Lion’s Job,” in Columbia Daily Spectator, September 21, 2001, available online: http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/columbia?a=d&d=cs20010921-01.2.4&srpos=1&e=——-en-20–1–txt-txIN-greg+wyatt—–#.

[12] Sally Weiner to Brian Bodine, June 4, 1998, Curatorial File: 2004.1; Alex Sachare, “Scholars’ Lion Unveiling Highlights Deans Day,” Columbia College Today (May 2004), available online:  http://www.college.columbia.edu/cct_archive/may04/quads2.php.

Project from Spring 2017: Auguste Rodin, The Thinker

The following post was written by Tanya Moe, a student in the “Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard” undergraduate seminar in Spring 2017. This excerpt from her research paper discusses what is arguably Columbia’s most easily identifiable public sculpture on campus and how it came to be installed outside Philosophy Hall in 1931.


Auguste Rodin, The Thinker (Le Penseur)

Written by Tanya Moe; edited by Roberto C. Ferrari


Columbia University’s relationship with its most famous sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur), by the artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), began in the late 1920s under the administration of Nicholas Murray Butler, who was President of Columbia for 44 years. Under Butler’s leadership the campus was expanded and enrollment increased. He elevated the school’s reputation to make it one of the leading higher-educational institutions in the world.[1] Alongside Butler’s many feats of bolstering of the university’s educational programs was the commissioning of a cast of Rodin’s Thinker.

The acquisition of the statue took about two years. The earliest letters in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library document that the process began in 1929. Butler’s decision to acquire the statue was part of a movement “to beautify and to adorn the grounds at Morningside and to give them a more attractive and impressive appearance than they now have.”[2] During discussions, two locations were suggested for The Thinker: in front of Kent Hall; or, outside Philosophy Hall. In a letter to Henry Lee Norris, the Director of Works at Columbia, Butler expressed his preference for the latter location of the two: “The effectiveness of the statue in front of the School of Mines is so fine that I should not like to have anything less good for Philosophy Hall.”[3]

The statue outside the School of Mines that Butler referred to was The Hammersmith (Le Marteleur), designed in 1884 by the Belgian artist Constantin Meunier.  Columbia’s cast was commissioned by the School of Mines (now Engineering) Class of 1889 and installed on campus in 1914 outside their building, now known as Lewisohn Hall. Meunier’s works elevate the image of the industrial worker into an icon of modernity, as demonstrated in the strong pose of Le Marteleur, making it an appropriate representation of the School of Mines and its programs in mining and engineering. The sculpture was later moved outside the new Engineering building on the northeast corner of campus.

Following the symbolic relationship between buildings and statues, it is understandable why Butler preferred the contemplative Thinker to stand outside Philosophy Hall. In a meeting of the Committee on Buildings and Grounds in 1930, Butler again put forward an argument for the statue to be placed in front of Philosophy Hall. In another letter to Norris, he wrote:

This preference rests on two considerations: first, that the statue Le Penseur is most appropriately placed in front of a building which bears the name “Philosophy,” and, second, that in that place it will balance the impressive statue “Le Marteleur” on the other side of the quadrangle in front of the School of Mines.[4]

In another letter, Butler bolstered his argument by stating further, “We should then have two of the masterpieces of the two greatest modern sculptors on our Quadrangle.”[5] Unfortunately, the lawn in front of Philosophy was already occupied by the Venetian well-head, which had been presented as a memorial of the Class of 1887. This issue was addressed with a resolution by Butler as such:

If we should put the well-head which is now in front of Philosophy at the middle point of this quadrangle, might it not serve as a motif for some architectural and landscaping development, not too costly, of a character that would make the quadrangle itself very attractive and serve as a model of what we should like to do throughout the grounds?[6]

This quadrangle was the space bounded by the Chapel on the south, Fayerweather on the east, Schermerhorn on the north, and Avery on the west. Norris (Director of Works) and William M. Kendall (an architect at the firm McKim, Mead & White) both agreed with Butler’s suggestion and the well-head was moved.

In June 1930, Butler ordered the replica of Rodin’s statue after having visited the Musée Rodin in Paris. He suggested the pedestal be shorter than the one at the museum, as it was “in [his] judgment, too high.”[7] Butler expected the statue to arrive before August 1st, but he was soon informed that “the authorities of the Rodin Museum wish Columbia University to have an entirely new copy of the statue.”[8] Thus, a new statue was cast by Alexis Rudier, from the Rudier Foundry, where many of Rodin’s bronzes were cast. This new statue delayed plans for installation by around six months, but The Thinker was eventually installed in early 1931 in front of Philosophy Hall to balance with The Hammersmith outside the School of Mines.


[1] “Nicholas Murray Butler,” Columbia University,  http://c250.columbia.edu/c250_celebrates/remarkable_columbians/nicholas_butler.html

[2] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Edward H. Kendall, Feb. 26, 1930, Nicholas Murray Butler Papers, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University. (The letters  below come from the same archive.)

[3] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Henry Lee Norris, Aug. 1, 1929.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to William M. Kendall, Jun. 2, 1930.

[6] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Edward H. Kendall, Feb. 26, 1930.

[7] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to William M. Kendall, Jun. 2, 1930.

[8] Nicholas Murray Butler, Letter to Henry Lee Norris, Jul. 1, 1930.


Projects from Spring 2017: Kees Verkade, Tightrope Walker

During the Spring 2017 semester, Prof. Robert Harrist and Curator Roberto C. Ferrari co-taught an undergraduate seminar entitled “Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia and Barnard.” The idea for the course was inspired by the recent acquisition of Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure, and the subsequent controversy which followed its proposed installation. Reinforcing the educational mission of the University’s art collection, this seminar was a prime opportunity to teach from Columbia’s permanent art collection utilizing sculpture that students, faculty, and staff see everyday on campus but know little about it.

Each of the students took on a final research project associated with one of the sculptures. Over the next few months, excerpts from some of their project reports will be made available on this blog, enabling everyone to learn more about the history of these works of art and their association with Columbia’s history.

We begin with Barnard College student Isabel Dicker, who became fascinated by the sculpture on Revson Plaza known as the Tightrope Walker by the Dutch modernist sculptor Kees Verkade. This sculpture was unveiled in 1979 as a dedicated memorial to Gen. William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School. The depiction of two tightrope walkers on one another’s shoulders was intended to symbolize the dangers and risks Donovan took protecting America in the battlefields, as well as his later career in the precursor of the CIA and as a lawyer.

Dicker created an original website/blog entitled “Kees Verkade, the Tightrope Walker, and Wild Bill,” and you can read all of her individual posts highlighting aspects of the sculpture, the artist, “Wild Bill” himself, and so on: http://verkadetightropewalker.blogspot.com/. (Start at the oldest post and work your way to the newest post to follow her chronology of research.)

During the summer the marble base of the sculpture was destroyed. Fortunately, the sculpture itself is intact and did not suffer any damage. The marble sheathing around the sculpture’s base will be repaired or replaced in the months to come.