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Henry B. Vandercook Hall Bas-Reliefs

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bullet Many of the campus buildings constructed between 1938 and 1942 were ornamented with carved sandstone bas-relief sculptures.  These buildings include the Manual Arts Building, Spindler Hall for Women, Vandercook Hall for Men, and The Theatre (corner of Oakland Dr. and Oliver St.).  Vandercook Hall has the greatest number and variety of sculpted forms.  The two entrances each feature bas-reliefs flanking the inscribed building name.

bullet Henry B. Vandercook is referred to in Dr. Knauss' history ( "The First Fifty Years", written for the semi-centennial) as "the Father of Western". In 1903 Henry Vandercook was an elected member of the State House from Grand Rapids. He led the legislative campaign to authorize the creation of a normal school in southwest Michigan, which would become the Western State Normal School and, eventually, Western Michigan University.  Vandercook Hall was completed in 1939.

bullet The Vandercook Hall bas-reliefs are not labeled, but the stylized forms and robes relate to classical themes.

bullet Looking at the figures as archetypes, the figure with the palette is perhaps 'Artist' and the figure with the cello 'Musician'. 

bullet The football players are obviously 'Athletes', but having two figures instead of one may indicate something more, such as 'Sportmanship', or even 'Mens sana in corpore sano' (a sound mind in a sound body).

bullet The seated figures with what appears to be a scrolls or tablets are a little more abstract, but in the classical sense they could represent 'Student and Teacher', 'Storyteller', 'Historian', or even 'Philosopher'.

North Entrance Images

South Entrance Images

North Entrance - Henry B. Vandercook Hall for Men South Entrance - Henry B. Vandercook Hall for Men
North Entrance - Football Players South Entrance - Painter
North Entrance - Cellist South Entrance - Figures with Scroll and Harp
bullet It is not known who designed the bas-reliefs.  Through the years many faculty have freely given time and talent in support of the institution, and one of them may have designed these sculptures.  John Kemper, faculty from 1942 to 1970, is well-known for his graphic designs and murals, but the bas-reliefs pre-date his tenure.  Lydia Siedschlag, faculty and, later, head of the Art Department, decorated the interiors of all building built from 1936 through the 1950's, but there is no indication that she dealt with the exterior facades as well.
South Entrance - Figures with scroll and harp; 1940 photo

 

 

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