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Large, outdoor sculptures installed on campus

ISSUED: 26 June 2015
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — A walk across Shepherd University’s campus just became a little more interesting with the addition of three large, outdoor sculptures. The works were delivered and installed June 24-25. A fourth sculpture is in need of repair and will be installed at a later date.

John and Patricia Bain Bachner, who live in Great Falls, Virginia, and are planning to move to Shepherdstown, donated the sculptures to the university. They were part of the Bachners’ private collection.

“While this is a substantial gift to the university by the Bachner family, for me the hidden value is in the revitalization of the public art program on campus, something I hope continues,” said Christian Benefiel, assistant professor of art and a sculptor himself who helped facilitate the installation of the works.

“One of the things that public sculpture does is translate the difference between an institution and a community,” he said. “The placement of sculptures on Shepherd’s campus represents a willingness to consider the abstract and an open approach to intellectualism and understanding. The works are interpretive and are being placed in a manner that compliments the natural and historical beauty of Shepherd’s campus. ”

Three of the sculptures are the work of Harold “Skip” Van Houten. Two are made of stacked stone and metal. One of them, called “Uplift,” is in front of the Scarborough Library. Another, a large round metal wheel encasing stacked stone called “Flat Rocks Roll,” is located on West Campus Drive in front of Shaw Hall. A third Van Houten, “Inside Axis,” is made of cement, iron, and block. It will be restored and placed near the Center for Contemporary Arts.

Van Houten is a Danbury, Connecticut, native who taught for 24 years at the University of Southern Mississippi and founded that school’s sculpture program.

The fourth sculpture is the work of Michael Bigger, a Waukegan, Illinois, native who taught more than 20 years at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Bigger died in 2011. His large metal creation painted red and yellow sits in front of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

The installation is a dream come true for Dow Benedict, professor of art and dean of the School of Arts and Humanities. Benedict, who is also a sculptor, said he has wanted to see sculptures on Shepherd’s campus since he first came here in 1971.

“I’m so excited about them,” he said. “The place begs for work like that. You try to create little centers that people congregate around, and you try to present art that causes people to have conversations. It’s just what we ought to be doin, and we have grounds to do it on.”

Benedict believes the three sculptures by Van Houten are a particularly good addition to the campus.

“Two of them have metal frameworks and are dry-stacked stone, which mimics the stonework you see in the landscape in this area,” he said, pointing out there are many dry-stacked stone fences in the countryside here.

“These pieces really appeal to me because of that,” he said. “And then you get the rusted steel frameworks around them, it’s what you see every day. I can walk through Shepherdstown and I can see all of those elements. To take those elements that are just a natural part of our life and our landscape and now put them in works of art on the campus, to me they just belong.”

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