Sorry, you need to install flash to see this content.

Sculptor's presence lingers in massive monument

The "Wheel," designed by Cort Savage, has been on SU's quad for the past 20 years — all 7,000 pounds of it.

Cort Savage hasn’t returned to the Syracuse University campus since he graduated 20 years ago.

Savage, currently the chair of the art department at Davidson College, received his master of fine arts degree from SU in 1991 and while he hasn’t walked through the school’s quad since graduation, his presence still lingers.

See more SUperlative videos about standout people and places on campus, including some "firsts," "bests" and "favorites."

Resting between Hendricks Chapel and the Physics Building is Savage’s “Wheel” — a 7,000-pound wheel-like sculpture 8 feet in diameter and made of concrete, steel and glass. Savage designed it in his second of four years spent at the school.

“I was genuinely shocked to learn that it was still there,” Savage said. “I assumed that they’d have it for a while and then say, ‘All right now we are going to get rid of this and get something else.’”

In 1988 the department of physics at SU decided to hold a sculpture competition open to any full-time student enrolled at the school. Savage was one of three who submitted an application and ended up winning the $3,000 commission with his design.

The physics department wanted a sculpture to honor William Fredrickson, who was chairman from 1939 to 1965. The piece was unveiled during a ceremony on Oct. 6, 1988, and was attended by Melvin Eggers, SU’s chancellor at the time, and Fredrickson’s wife, Linnea.

Joshua Goldberg, the department’s chair from 1975 to 1982, said that Fredrickson led the charge to get the department moved into its own building in 1967 and helped to shape the department into what it is today.

“He really was an extraordinary man,” Goldberg said. ”He was an extraordinary individual.”

Savage said that he originally found out about the competition through one of his teachers. He didn’t know much about Fredrickson, but was drawn to the professor’s work on spectroscopy, the study of the interaction between matter and radiant energy.

Fredrickson’s studies included work on the movement of light. This particular aspect captured Savage and helped influence the basic idea of “Wheel.”

“I was interested in the idea of navigating from one point to another point, in the most abstract sense,” Savage said. “If you go from point A to point B, you have to have some kind of journey to get there.”

The idea of movement led Savage to one of the oldest and simplest machines, the wheel. From there he became interested in capturing how an individual goes through the process of problem solving.


A quick glance at Savage’s “Wheel” and it becomes apparent that his interpretation of the object is a little different. For starters the half of the wheel that rests parallel to the ground has a wide base, while the top half is thinner and jagged.

“As this thing would be moving across a metaphorical landscape, there would be places where it would be very stable, secure and certain and there would be other places — when it’s on its edge — where it was very unstable and insecure and very uncertain,” Savage said.

“As you move through that idea there is going to be places where you’re going to be certain and there are going to be places where you are uncertain.”

The piece also includes an off-center hole for the axel to suggest that the movement is awkward, Savage said.

On the front surface, Savage incorporated a number of horizontal lines that continued the theme of metaphorical movement. He said that they were meant to resemble lines for measurement, much like the ones seen on rulers and graduated cylinders.

Another feature incorporated into the piece are the three lens diagrams located on the back of the monument. One of Fredrickson’s tools of choice was his telescope when he studied light from stars, so Savage decided to include images that were based on the diagrams of the Newtonian and Galilean telescopes.

Ludwig Stein, one of Savage’s professors at the time of his design, said that when Savage had an idea, it usually came to fruition. Savage had several other pieces that reflected his unique take on the wheel and for Stein it’s the ambiguity of the monument that resonates with him.

“I think that the idea of the wheel, while it’s very simplistic, it opens the doors to a lot of other things,” Stein said. “I know it did for Cort because he was interested in that kind of motion. It didn’t have a beginning and it didn’t have an end.”




Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.