Sculpture Surveys: Of Balance and Animals

Geoffrey Leach

(Part 1 of an ongoing series)

Whitman’s outdoor art makes campus sometimes feel like a sculpture garden. Many different sculptures embody a variety of subjects and histories. This article will be part of a recurring series that examines the sculptures on campus, exposing both the sculptures’ history and their impact on campus. We start with Styx and Three Stories (the fish sculpture next to Penrose Library), two iconic sculptures. Both sculptures have similar themes and history.

In 1997, Styx and Three Stories first arrived on campus as part of an exhibition at the Sheehan Gallery. The show, “Cast Contemporary Sculpture,” showcased work that artists cast in the Walla Walla Foundry. According to Sheehan Gallery Director Daniel Forbes, Mark Anderson ‘78 started the Walla Walla Foundry, which has cast several sculptures at Whitman, including the Carnival and Munn sculptures by Maxey.

While Three Stories remained on campus after the exhibition, it took another five years for Styx to arrive. Styx was purchased by Tom Cronin, Whitman’s last president, in 2002 and has been on campus ever since. Styx appears like a normal horse, but the driftwood appearance creates a skeletal image that affirms itself in the name. Separating the Underworld from Earth in Greek mythology, the River Styx exists between the living and the dead. This explains why Styx can seem like a living horse while maintaining an element of death.

Styx has since become the most notable sculpture on campus and in the community. This is partly because Deborah Butterfield, the sculptor, used driftwood from the Columbia and Snake rivers to build Styx. In this way its parts actually come from this community. Styx’s figure appears in admissions materials, Facebook pictures and even wine bottle labels. Styx has become an icon, almost a mascot, on campus.

“[When] I show my prospective students around campus, I ask them what Styx is made of. They’re usually surprised it’s made of metal [and not wood],” said sophomore Erica Rodriguez.

Despite its central location on campus, Three Stories does not share the same level of fame. This is possibly due to its lack of interactivity. The sculpture once had a platform that students could stand on and yell in its direction, receiving an echo, but that has been removed. Styx also maintains an element of familiarity that Three Stories struggles to replicate.

“[Styx] reminds me of my home and the countryside in Montana,” said sophomore Nuridia Nulliner.

Also from Montana, Butterfield has spent her life building horse sculptures out of many materials, typically from sticks and metal. Born on the day of the Kentucky Derby, Butterfield has spent her life surrounded by horses and eventually settled on this as the subject for her art. Instead of focusing only on living horses, she takes account of death and weaves this into her art. In Styx, she forms a balance.

Three Stories also highlights a theme of balance. The carp balances a lemon and a bowl on its mouth. Inspired by fish markets in Hong Kong, carp represent prosperity and wealth in China. Squire Broel, the sculptor, intentionally scars the carp to bring up the idea of a loss of values in search of wealth.

Broel’s art often focuses on issues that arise when humanity meets nature. Usually he points to the threat that a pursuit of wealth has on the natural world. This is seen in Three Stories with the scarring of the carp.

The two sculptures, both located outside the library, bring different themes, artistic styles and histories to campus. Contemplate balance and the community next time you scale Styx.