Set in stone: Syracuse statues and sculptures

More than 30 statues and sculptures stand on campus but their stories and artists behind these works of art have remained a mystery to students.

The original purpose of the Saltine Warrior statue was to mark a phony gravesite of an Onondagan chief rumored to be buried on campus. 

Syracuse University tradition has it that if a student rubs the dog's paw on the Diana statue in Bird Library they will ace an upcoming test.

Photo: Julia Terruso

Strike A Pose

Find out more about SU campus art with our guide:

  • Meet three famous sculptors
  • Take the five-minute tour
  • Photos & map for 30 statues
  • Standing outside of the Maxwell School is one of two statues of Lincoln on campus.  Its brother greets travelers at the end of the Lincoln Memorial Highway, in Lincoln Park, San Francisco, Calif.  The second statue on campus depicts a young Abe Lincoln on horseback near Bray Hall on the ESF campus. 

    Each statue on the Syracuse University campus has a story, says SUArt Galleries' curator Emily Dittman. "It's just a matter of figuring out what they are." 

    This year, SUArt is launching an initiative to bring more student awareness to on-campus art. SUArt has plans to improve its website and place signs around campus informing students and visitors about the history of each statue and the artists behind them.

    "We all pass them every day and don't comprehend what they mean," Dittman said.

    SUArt contains more than 45,000 pieces of art. They range from small sketches to 120- inch bronze statues. The staff of eight works to maintain and restore the 29 statues under their care but admittedly, education and outreach isn't what they want it to be.

    "We're a busy staff running an active exhibition space so I think unfortunately sometimes art on campus gets pushed to the back burner," Dittman said.

    Laying the foundation

    Most of the statues on campus are gifts given by departments or individual alumni. The SU Physics department commissioned "Wheel," on the quad as a tribute to a deceased faculty member. SU Athletics commissioned the Ernie Davis statue, while the Chi Omega sorority paid for a hanging metal fixture in Huntington Beard Crouse. 

    "It's often a way for people to memorialize someone or something related to their time at SU," Dittman said.

    Once a statue is in the works, SUArt helps by advising artists on materials that will hold up in the cold Syracuse weather. All statue locations have to be approved by the Art on Campus committee which is made up of representatives from several university departments including Parking, Design and Construction and SUArt. 

    "We're always looking for areas that could use art," Dittman said.

    The Newhouse patio, and locations in the recently built Life Sciences building are especially sparse, she said. 

    SU has recently pushed to create more art spaces on campus, rather than individual pieces. Dittman's favorite work isn't a single statue or sculpture but the collection of pieces displayed in the sculpture garden beside the Shaffer Art building. Works by Ivan Mestrovic, a former Syracuse professor and sculptor-in-residence, surround the stone benches. SUArt has started talking with the Office of Design and Construction about adding a similar seating area between Huntington Beard Crouse and Hinds Hall so people can sit and look a the mural of Sacco and Vanzetti

    "It's a busy corridor and people feel like they're in the way standing there," Dittman said. 

    Keeping up appearances

    Not all statues on campus technically belong to the SUArt Gallery collection. Those that do, benefit from fine arts insurance and maintenance provided by the gallery.

    "We maintain it, clean it. If something tips over, we're right there to put it back up," Dittman said.

    While some statues such as the Weather Person between Schine Student Center and the Library have started to rust, most of the pieces on SU's campus remain in good condition because of their marble or bronze casting. An exception to that is "Banner" by Albert Paley. The 2002 sculpture in the Orange Grove is made of steel and requires the application of a regular anti-rusting spray. 

    Because many of the smaller statues and busts are scattered across campus, SUArt does yearly inventories to account for everything. The art loan program is an attempt to bring education and appreciation outside exhibition walls.

    "We fill the Chancellor's suite with art, as well as Admissions so new students can see this is a university with a deep appreciation and great collection of work," Dittman said.

    What's next?

    Syracuse has more statues than most other universities of its size.

    "When I've walked around other campuses, art is not nearly as prevalent. I don't see that much at all, that's something for us to take pride in," Dittman said.

    But new statues are popping up less and less frequently. In the 1950s and 1960s, statues sprouted up once every few years, but more recently there's been a lag. Dittman said to her knowledge no formal statues are currently in the works but she pointed to less traditional projects like the urban video project as the direction public art is headed.

    "It's good for current students to see the bronze and marble classics but it's also important for them to see what contemporary artists are doing when they set out to create public art."


    The five-minute tour

    Entertain your friends on the way to class or impress visiting parents with the five-minute tour:

    Start at Shaffer Art Building and point out the patio with three works by Ivan Mestrovic. The most interesting of the three--Persephone, depicts the greek goddess of the Underworld reaching toward salvation in the moments after she's been banished to hell.



    Then, to lighten the mood, walk toward Carnegie Library where the most famous SU statue, "The Saltine Warrior," launches an arrow into the sky. Sports enthusiasts can't miss it before heading into the Dome for football and basketball games.



    Keep walking toward Hendricks Chapel to see one of the newest and most controversial statues: "Ernie Davis." Zoom in on his sneaks, which are now Nike-swoosh free.



    Finally end your tour by crossing behind Hendricks Chapel and walking to the lawn outside of Maxwell where "Lincoln Seated," one of two Lincoln statues on campus, greets passing students.


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