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How Did WSU Get Such A Massive Outdoor Sculpture Collection?

WSU’s Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection, which currently consists of 76 pieces, is one of the largest outdoor university sculpture collections in the United States.

In 2006, the collection landed a spot in Public Art Review magazine’s compiled list of the top 10 campus outdoor art collections nationwide. The list is based on the quantity and quality of the works.

So how did Wichita State University end up with such an impressive outdoor sculpture collection?

It all started with former Vice President of Academic Resources Dr. Martin H. Bush. He felt it was important to bring works from around the country to the Midwest. 

After holding a position at Syracuse University, Bush had connections out east and in 1971 he began writing to and soliciting artists from that area to grow the collection. In these letters, Bush persuaded artists to gift their works to the university.

The first piece installed was “Happy Mother” by Chaim Gross in the early ‘70s.

“He had taken it upon himself to really build the collection,” said Aimee Geist, the museum’s curator of education. “And his goal was to include prominent internationally acclaimed artists, to bring them here to the Midwest.”

Through private funding, endowments and grants from entities such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the National Endowment for the Arts, the school is able to conserve and care for the massive collection of sculptures, as well as purchase new works.

In the past decade, campus has acquired two new pieces: Tom Otterness’ “Millipede” (nicknamed ‘Millie’), Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wichita Arch."

The collection is owned by the WSU Foundation, but maintained by the Ulrich.

The sculptures are meant to encourage the community to not only experience art at the Ulrich Museum but to experience the entirety of campus. 

“I think that the outdoor sculptures are a very important part of our collection,” said Ulrich Director Bob Workman.

Workman believes that the sculptures are a way to touch all the students and  staff on the campus, rather than being limited to the works inside of the Ulrich.

“We very much look forward to continuing to grow that collection.” Workman said.

Currently, one of the university’s most iconic and well-known pieces, “Personnages Oiseaux (Bird People),” by Joan Miró, is under conservation.

Artist and WSU Professor Levente Sulyok’s temporary installment “Small Pleasures” is in its place. The installment consists of an abstract banner with a shadowbox in the center. South of the museum, near "Millie," are two telescopes you can use to view the piece. The art in the box is rotated out every one to three months, giving the piece an ever-changing feel.

At the beginning of the month, artist James Farmer’s “Found and Collected Objects” was added to the shadowbox of “Small Pleasures.”

“Bird People” is expected to be under conservation until 2016.