Uris Library Historical Tour: Introduction
The University Library building, later renamed Uris Library, opened on October 7, 1891, precisely twenty-three years after classes began at Cornell University. The architect, William Henry Miller, was Cornell’s first student of architecture, remembered through his many buildings on campus and portrait, which hangs in the Uris Library lobby. In addition to the library, with its iconic tower, he designed Barnes Hall, Stimson Hall, Boardman Hall, and Risley Hall, two fraternities, the A. D. White House, the Central Avenue Bridge, and Eddy Gate. Miller also designed numerous residential, business, and church buildings in and around Ithaca.
Miller designed the library in the Richardsonian-Romanesque style, as a cross-shaped structure—a “cruciform basilica” that features a large reading room—a “nave”—with natural lighting from 29 windows and 20 clerestory windows. For a university famously founded as a non-sectarian institution, the new library building was Andrew Dickson White’s “secular cathedral” devoted to books and learning.
As the building was dedicated on that October afternoon, Cornell President Charles Kendall Adams noted: “To-day…we come together with glad hearts to celebrate the completion of what must for all time be the most important structure on these grounds.”
Welcome to the Uris Library Historical Tour. Read, peruse, watch, or hear about its history, traditions, and stories connected with particular rooms by visiting these pages:
Arthur H. Dean Room
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The General Reading Room, now known as the Dean Room, is Uris Library’s most commanding interior space and its prominence is significant. While not the first library to contain such a space, architect William Henry Miller’s design reflects a major shift in how academic libraries functioned.
Previously, university libraries were essentially storage facilities open to faculty only a few hours per week. But Cornell’s library building was designed to accommodate a collection of 400,000 books and to provide a convenient way for people to access and use those books. Built into the natural slope of the site, no book in the library was more than 120 feet away from the service desk at the west end of the General Reading Room – the same place where today’s circulation desk is located.
Cornell may have had the first American university library intended for extensive use by undergraduates as well as faculty, thanks to the vision of its first University Librarian Willard Fiske. Cornell’s library was open nine hours a day, longer than any other college library in the country. Hours were extended even further in 1885, when Cornell’s library, then located in McGraw Hall, became one of the first American libraries to be lighted by electricity.
The library may have been open, but books did not leave the building. From the beginning, the library was conceived as a non-circulating reference library. Only later after conducting a survey of other libraries in 1908 did Cornell agree to allow books to be borrowed by its faculty and students.
By then, the stacks were already becoming overcrowded. Lack of adequate space for books and readers became a frequent source of contention over the next 50 years and these pressures were not completely remedied until Olin Library was built in 1961.
Renamed in 1962 for Harold D. Uris, a graduate of Cornell’s Class of 1925 and a Cornell trustee from 1967 to 1972, Uris Library was designated as the “undergraduate library,” so that these students would not have to compete with graduate students or faculty for resources, services or study space.
The Dean Room is named for Arthur H. Dean, an Ithaca native, Cornell alumnus, attorney, diplomat, United Nations delegate, and Cornell University trustee. He and his wife Mary provided funds for the renovation of Uris Library and the building of Olin Library. Thousands of rare books and manuscripts have been added to the library collections as a result of their generosity, and to foster a love of books and reading among Cornell’s students, they also began the library’s first undergraduate book collection contest, which lasted from 1966 until 1989.
The Dean Room is now, as it has always been, a reading room where one can study quietly or take advantage of other traditional library services. It is also a hub of new activities. Card catalogs have been replaced by computers and wireless connections make access to Cornell’s digital resources possible here and throughout the building.
In the northwest corner of the room hang portraits of Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White, the University’s co-founders. They are joined by portraits of Cornell’s past presidents, which proceed in chronological order as you move counterclockwise around the room.
Elements of Cornell’s history are preserved in Uris Library’s architecture and art work. As you tour the building, we hope that you can appreciate Andrew Dickson White’s belief that: “the library is the heart of the university, ‘the culmination of all.’”
Class of 1957 Kinkeldey Room
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The Class of 1957 – Kinkeldey Room is one of several designated “quiet study” rooms in Uris Library that combines historical aesthetics with modern technology to provide an inspirational space for study and reflection. With its close proximity to the library’s print collections, its wireless access to Cornell’s digital resources, and its gorgeous views of Ithaca and Cayuga Lake, it is popular with today’s students.
The room was named, in part, for Cornell’s fourth University Librarian, Otto Kinkeldey. A music professor and internationally known musicologist, he first came to Cornell in 1923 to head the university’s music department. After leaving to work briefly at the New York Public Library, he returned to Cornell with a dual appointment as the country’s first professor of musicology and as the head of Cornell’s Library. During his tenure as University Librarian two new libraries were founded at Cornell – the Industrial and Labor Relations Library in 1945 (now the Catherwood Library) and the Business School Library in 1946 (now the Johnson School of Management Library), and a much-needed nine-story stack tower was added to the southwest corner of this building.
The Kinkeldey Room is one of five spaces in the building named for Cornell librarians. When the University Library building was renovated and reopened as Uris Undergraduate Library in 1963, Stephen A. McCarthy, Cornell’s fifth University Librarian honored his four predecessors by naming reading rooms for them. The Fiske Room, better known to students as the “Fish Bowl” is named for Cornell’s first librarian, Willard Fiske. The Harris, Austen, and Kinkeldey Rooms are positioned one above the other at the west end of the building in space that was originally one of the library’s book stacks. A fifth reading room was named for E. R. B. Willis, a classical scholar who served the Library for 33 years.
Thanks to the generosity of the Class of 1957, the room was renovated in 2007and given an historic look and feel. A dropped ceiling and old fluorescent lighting were removed to reveal the room’s original vaulted ceiling and three high windows on the western wall. The niches on the southern wall are casements for the windows that were there until the new stack tower was added to the building in 1937. To the east is a newly restored window that provides a view of the Dean Room below. The new chandeliers are a reminder that the building has always had electric lighting and was once filled with such magnificent fixtures.
The art work in the room honors the university’s founding. In addition to the beautiful Cornell landscape paintings by artist Bill Schmidt, a member of the Class of 1957, the room’s portraits each tell a compelling Cornell story.
On the left side of the east wall is a portrait of Eunice Cornell Taylor by Canadian artist, John Colin Forbes. Named for her great-grandmother, she is the granddaughter of the university’s founder, Ezra Cornell. He poignantly expressed his commitment to equal educational opportunities for all persons, women as well as men, in an 1867 letter to a four-year-old Eunice:
“I want to have girls educated in the University as well as boys, so that they may have the same opportunity to become wise and useful to society that the boys have. I want you to keep this letter until you grow up to be a woman and want to go to a good school where you can have a good opportunity to learn, so you can show it the President and Faculty of the University to let them know that it is the wish of your Grand Pa, that girls as well as boys should be educated at the Cornell University.”
To the right is a portrait of the late Stephen H. Weiss, a prominent member of the Class of 1957 who served on the Cornell Board of Trustees for 24 years (1973-1997) and as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1989 to 1997. To commemorate his service to the University his classmates dedicated this portrait on 12 September 2010. The portrait is a giclée on canvas copy of the original oil painting that hangs in the Board Room at the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, which Steve Weiss helped to found and where he served as the first Chairman of The Board of Overseers.
On the western wall are portraits of two men who profoundly shaped Cornell’s early history. To the left is Eastman Johnson’s portrait of Justin Smith Morrill. A member of the House of Representatives and later a U.S. senator from Vermont, he sponsored the Morrill Act, also known as the Land Grant College Act, which established federal funding for higher education in every state of the country when it was signed into law in 1862. Cornell University is New York State’s land grant institution. Its first building is named in Morrill’s honor, and Lincoln Hall, opened in 1889, is named for the President who signed the Morrill Act.
To the right is John Colin Forbes’s portrait of Henry Williams Sage, who was an Ithaca businessman, philanthropist, and the University’s Chairman of the Board of Trustees. His many gifts to Cornell include funds for building Sage College, a separate dormitory for women that is now Sage Hall, Sage Chapel, and this building, the University Library. His generous contributions also provided for the founding of the Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy, named for his wife, the ongoing purchase of library books, and endowments for professorial chairs in ethics and philosophy. The university also benefited greatly from his business acumen, as he counseled Ezra Cornell and the board of trustees on numerous business and financial matters.
Uris Library’s Class of 1957- Kinkeldey Room is a room with a view and a quiet place to reflect upon the university and some of the people important to its history. As you look at their portraits, keep in mind the words of Cornell’s first president and co-founder Andrew Dickson White that: “this library will be for generations, nay, for centuries, a source of inspiration to all who would bring the good thought of the past to bear in making the future better.”
Andrew Dickson White Library
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Andrew Dickson White, Cornell University’s co-founder and first president, built a great library. Although seldom identified today as one of the foremost collectors of the 19th century, his achievements have left a remarkable legacy. Unlike other famous book collectors of his time—J. Pierpont Morgan, Henry Edwards Huntington, John Jacob Astor, and James Lenox—he did not establish a separate institution to house his personal collections of books and manuscripts. Instead, White donated his entire collection of 30,000 books to the Cornell University Library—at a time when the Library possessed a collection of just 90,000 volumes.
White’s great generosity reveals his utilitarian approach to collecting and, in his words, a “strong belief in the didactic value of books.” As an educator and historian he believed that one could not have a great university without a great library, and he wanted his books to be read and used by Cornell’s faculty and students.
His collections of materials on architecture, witchcraft, the Reformation, the French Revolution, Abolitionism and the Civil War were among the finest in the world during his lifetime. Originally shelved in the large, three-story room within Uris Library that bears his name, White’s collections are no longer kept together in one place. Many of his books were moved to the stacks in Olin Library when it opened in 1961. In recent years, most of White’s books have been transferred to the Division of Rare & Manuscript Collections for their continued protection and preservation. Today, the Andrew Dickson White Library holds a portion of the humanities and social science collections found in the combined Olin and Uris Libraries.
It is perhaps more fitting and accurate to say that Andrew Dickson White built two great libraries. The first was his large and significant personal book collection. The second was the Cornell University Library.
White hired Willard Fiske to be Cornell’s first University Librarian, and he worked closely with him to develop innovative and progressive policies for their library. White purchased its first books, and played an active role throughout his life in developing the library’s collections. Even in his student days, White had considered the merits of the most prestigious European libraries, imagining what it would be like to build an important new research library.
A trace of this inspiration can be found in the stained-glass windows that line the room. They portray the crests of several Oxford and Cambridge colleges. In the north windows, for instance, the blue escutcheon contains the motto for Oxford University, “Dominus Illuminatio Mea.” Translated from Psalm 27, it means, “The Lord is my Light.” Visitors from a new generation find the room’s ambiance comes from another source, calling it the “Harry Potter” library.
When White offered his personal library to the university, he set two conditions. He asked that the university provide a suitable space to house his collection—he stipulated a fire-proof room—and he requested that proper provision be made for the ongoing maintenance of his collections. That “suitable space” is the Andrew Dickson White Library. White played an active role in helping the building’s architect, William Henry Miller, design and ornament this space.
The maintenance and cataloging of the collection became the responsibility of George Lincoln Burr, a member of the Cornell class of 1871. Burr was White’s secretary and personal librarian as well as the first curator of the White Historical Library. Originally hired by White when he was a Cornell sophomore, Burr worked closely with White to develop and care for his library. We can safely posit that after 1879, the White collection must be seen as a collaborative effort between the two scholars. Each traveled to Europe on extended book-buying tours. Burr, also a renowned professor in the Cornell History department, is given special credit for building and enriching the Library’s collections on the Reformation and witchcraft.
Burr’s portrait by Cornell art professor Christian Midjo is prominently displayed on the north wall of the room, and a small drawing by R. H. Bainton on the first tier shows Burr as Cornell historian Carl Becker once described him: an “indefatigable scholar and bibliophile . . . browsing and brooding in the stacks.”
The Andrew Dickson White Library is filled with art work, furniture, and artifacts from White’s academic and diplomatic careers. He served as U.S. minister to Germany while still president of Cornell, and later also served as minister to Russia. Several pictures and photographs in the room depict Russian scenes. The artworks were collected by Mr. White.
Originally, this space had skylights and an open archway into the adjacent Dean Room (where the Burr portrait now hangs). Those features were lost to renovations, but the original three tiers of wrought- iron stacks still offer an open and dramatic display of their books. Upon first seeing these shelves filled with White’s books in September of 1891, George Lincoln Burr wrote that it “gave one such an idea of a multitude of books. You see and feel them all. They quite overawe one.” Setting the objective for the collection, he promised to make the White Library, in his words, “the great living, growing historical workshop of the University.”
The Cornell Chimes
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As anyone who has studied in Uris Library can tell you, Cornell’s chimes are housed in McGraw Tower, which is attached to the library. Every fifteen minutes, bells mark the passing of time, and two or three times a day, the campus is treated to a bell concert that features such time-honored and memorable tunes as (of course) the Alma Mater, the Evening Song, the Jennie McGraw Rag, “If I Only Had a Brain,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” and “Here Comes the Sun.”
Trek up the tower’s 161 steps during one of those concerts and you can watch chimesmasters in action, working solo or in teams with both hands and at least one foot working levers and pedals to play the 21 bells that comprise the renowned Cornell chimes. The original nine bells rang for the university’s opening ceremonies in 1868. Hung from a temporary wooden framework, and given by Jennie McGraw (later Jennie McGraw Fiske), the bells have been an important part of campus life ever since. McGraw Hall, one of Cornell’s first buildings, included a bell tower so that those nine bells could have a permanent home. When the library opened in 1891, the bells were installed in an even larger tower built for no other reason than to house them. As a distinctive Cornell landmark, McGraw Tower is frequently used to represent the university. Its iconic presence on campus has been felt, heard and seen by generations of Cornell students, and remembered by alumni around the world.
The Cornell Chimes is a student-run organization, and the chimesmasters themselves are student and alumni musicians who bring music to the campus every day. Two Cornell chimesmasters, SiYi Wang and Scott Silverstein, both class of 2008, took time out to discuss what it has been like to participate in one of Cornell”s most cherished, most enduring traditions. Listen to the interview and find out why chimesmasters will “always have the tower.”
Music by the Cornell Chimesmasters, © 2007 Photographs by Samantha Bosshart and JackiDickert
Remembering Jennie McGraw Fiske
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On October 7, 1868, at the inauguration ceremonies for Cornell University, Francis Finch, friend and legal advisor to Ezra Cornell and later, Dean of the Cornell Law School, presented the University with a very special gift on behalf of a young benefactor. Miss Jennie McGraw had given Cornell a chime of nine bells. They were played for the first time that afternoon from a wooden scaffold set on the site now occupied by Uris Library.
In his address Mr. Finch paid tribute to Jennie McGraw’s generosity:
“These bells are now yours [Cornell]–given cheerfully, given gladly, given hopefully; given with the best wishes of a kind heart to all to whom their chime shall ring….Let the memory of their giver make them sacred; let them ring always harmonies and never discords; let them infuse into the college life, and interweave among the sober threads of practical study and toil some love of art and lines of grace and beauty; let them teach the excellence of order and system… I give these bells, [on] behalf of her whose name I trust their melody will always commemorate….”
According to Cornell historian Morris Bishop, the chime was “the first to peal over an American campus.” A thankful Andrew D. White, Cornell’s first president, would request that the first song played each day be, “The Cornell Changes.” Adapted from a popular carillon tune that White had heard in London, it was soon rechristened, “The Jennie McGraw Rag” in honor of their donor.
Today the music of the bells carries her name across the campus, and her story and the legacy of her gifts to Cornell are memorialized in a collection of monuments found along the crest of Libe Slope.
Jennie McGraw shared here father’s enthusiasm for the new university and his interest in its library. John McGraw, a founding trustee of Cornell, had provided the money to build McGraw Hall, located between Morrill and White Halls in today’s Arts Quad. When it was completed in 1872, the library was moved there from cramped quarters in Morrill Hall, and Jennie’s bells were placed in its tower, which had been specifically designed to house them. The library and the chime would reside in McGraw Hall until the new library building and its tower were completed in 1891.
Both father and daughter had intended to endow the university’s library with generous funds to build and maintain its collections, but neither lived to see this work accomplished. When John McGraw died in 1877, Jennie inherited the bulk of his estate. Working with many of Cornell’s “founding fathers”–Ezra Cornell, Andrew D. White, Judge Douglass Boardman, and her father’s former business partner and fellow Cornell trustee, Henry Williams Sage, Jennie prepared to continue and expand her father’s charitable donations to the university.
But she died tragically of tuberculosis at the age of 41 just fours years later. Her will revealed some of her intentions:
“I also give and bequeath to said Cornell University $200,000 in trust to be securely invested and known as the McGraw Library fund, the interest and income thereof to be applied to the support, maintenance, and increase of the library of said university….I give, devise, and bequeath all the rest, residue, and remainder of my property (if any there shall be) to Cornell University.”
Her combined gifts to Cornell were estimated to be at least one million dollars—an astounding sum at that time—and included funds for building a student hospital and a monument to her father and Ezra Cornell. It was also presumed to include the mansion she commissioned architect William Henry Miller to build on the hillside just west of campus. With this bequest, it appeared that Andrew D. White’s dream of a great library building would be realized.
Unfortunately, there were complications. The size of her gift exceeded the university’s endowment limits set in its charter, which would require state legislative action to be amended. And in the waning months of her life, Jennie McGraw had married Cornell’s first University Librarian, Willard Fiske. Troubled by the university trustees’ actions to secure their bequest, he contested the will and spent the next nine years in litigation with the university.
When the United States Supreme Court ruled in Fiske’s favor, it appeared that many of Jennie’s gifts to the university were lost. Most of the estate formerly pledged to Cornell went to her husband, who had retired to a villa in Florence to continue his avocation of book collecting. The mansion intended as the university’s museum went to Jennie’s extended family, who subsequently sold the building along with the artwork and furnishings that she had collected for it.
Outraged by this outcome, Henry Williams Sage, the Ithaca businessman and university trustee who had been a financial advisor to Ezra Cornell and the McGraw’s, took it upon himself to fulfill Jennie’s plans. Sage donated the money to build the new library, hired William Henry Miller to design the Romanesque structure that we now know as Uris Library, and established an endowment for the purchasing of library books.
In the fall of 1891 the university opened its first library building and the chimes were transferred to their now permanent home in the new Library Tower. Recognized around the world as a symbol of Cornell University, it was renamed McGraw Tower in 1962.
Henry Sage had dedicated his efforts to Jennie and paid tribute to her with three library memorials. A plaque mounted at the entrance to Uris offers Sage’s version of the “Great Will Case” that reads:
“The good she tried to do shall stand as if ’twere done; God finishes the work by noble souls begun. In loving memory of Jennie McGraw Fiske whose purpose to Found a great library for Cornell University has been defeated. This house is built and endowed by her friend, Henry W. Sage, 1891.”
Directly above the doors is a bronze portrait of Jennie by American sculptor Anne Whitney. Cornell was founded as a non-sectarian institution, but here at the entrance to the university’s Romanesque cathedral of books is the library’s guardian angel and patron saint.
The third memorial is more subtle and perhaps the most telling of the three. Located high above the main entrance to Uris, three monograms with carved initials honor those most responsible for providing Cornell with its library: ADW for Andrew Dickson White, HWS for Henry Williams Sage, and JMG for Jennie McGraw. Sage intentionally left off the F of Jennie McGraw Fiske’s married name as a slight to Willard Fiske.
Fiske’s placed his own memorial to his wife inside the library in the Great Reading Room, now known as the Dean Reading Room. Over the fireplace that is behind the current Circulation Desk is a marble bust of Jennie that honors her as a Cornell benefactress.
Funds from Jennie’s estate were used by the university to purchase additional bells for the chime, to set up an endowment for a student hospital, and to build an addition to Sage Chapel. Memorials at the tower entrance to Uris Library, outside the Gannett Health Services building in Ho Plaza, and on the north wall of Sage Chapel commemorate her generosity.
Sage Chapel’s Memorial Antechapel, built in 1883, is the final resting place for Ezra Cornell, Jennie McGraw Fiske, her father, her husband, and other Cornell dignitaries. Inside the chapel are several sarcophagi with reclining statues. A recumbent figure of Jennie, sculpted by Sir Moses Ezekiel rests below a stained glass window that pictures her surrounded by her nine bells.
If Jennie’s original intentions were thwarted by the legal case that challenged her will, they were more than fulfilled by another legal document: her husband’s last will and testament. Upon Willard Fiske’s death in 1904, he left Cornell nearly $600,000, a sum that exceeded the amount of money he had inherited from Jennie. In addition, he bequeathed his unrivaled collections of Dante, Petrarch, and Icelandic books and manuscripts to the Cornell University Library.
Jennie McGraw Fiske was a true supporter of Ezra’s dream. Through her generosity and good intentions, and the philanthropy they inspired, Jennie McGraw Fiske, was able to provide Cornell with its original chime, its student hospital, the University Library, and several priceless book collections and library endowments. Although today’s students may not realize it, her gifts are key fixtures of the Cornell tradition that remains today.
Song of the Vowels
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Restored and revitalized, Song of the Vowels enjoys a newly-designed setting on the plaza between Olin and Uris libraries. Cornell University acquired the sculpture in 1962. Since that time, Song of the Vowels has been a fixture on the south end of Cornell’s Arts Quad, and a favorite gathering spot.
Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz created Song of the Vowels in 1931, and had it cast in a limited edition of seven copies, of which Cornell’s is the fifth. Other copies may now be found at Princeton University, UCLA, Stanford University, at Nelson Rockefeller’s Kykuit Gardens and at museums of modern art in Europe.
Born in Lithuania as Chaim Jacob Lipchitz, the artist spent much of his early career in Paris, working alongside Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque as a leader of the Cubist movement. The Cubistic attributes of his style are perhaps better displayed in the Bather, produced between 1923 and 1925, and also owned by the Cornell University Library.
Lipchitz’s Bather is a monumental study of geometric forms and intersecting planes that pivot around a central axis: the human bather’s torso. Bather was one of the last pieces Lipchitz created that can be considered strictly Cubist. Although his debt to Cubism is always apparent in his work, Lipchitz also drew inspiration from mythology, fantasy, and emotion to create expressive sculptural works. Song of the Vowels, created a few years later, represents a significantly different stage in Lipchitz’s oeuvre. While Bather is calm and carefully measured, Song of the Vowels is animated and energetic.
Lipchitz explained his inspiration for Song of the Vowels this way:
I had been commissioned to make a garden statue for Madame de Maudrot for her house at Le Pradet, in the south of France, designed by Le Corbusier. I was entranced by the location, a vineyard with mountains at the background, and since I was still obsessed with the idea of the harp, I decided to attempt a monument suggesting the power of man over nature. I had read somewhere about a papyrus discovered in Egypt having to do with a prayer that was a song composed only of vowels and designed to subdue the forces of nature . . . I cannot explain why the image of the harp and the Song of the Vowels should have come together except that both of them were in my mind at the same moment.
The design for Olin Library included a small sculpture court in an exterior alcove on the eastern side of the first floor, visible from the main reference area through a glass wall. As the building of Olin Library was nearing completion in 1961, a committee was charged with selecting sculpture for both the Olin Library sculpture court, and for the plaza between Olin and Uris libraries. The committee’s goal was to find modern sculpture of international renown. In January 1962, a major exhibition of Jacques Lipchitz sculpture came to Cornell’s Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art. With urging from art professor Jack Squier, the committee recommended the acquisition of Jacques Lipchitz’s work. Trustee Harold D. Uris, Class of 1925, and his brother, Percy, generously provided funds for both sculptures. Batherwas installed in June of 1962, while Song of the Vowels came to its home at Cornell in October of the same year. Olin’s sculpture court has been replaced by a corridor that links Olin Library with the underground Carl A. Kroch Library, which opened in 1992.
After nearly 50 years as a landmark on the Cornell campus, concerns for the preservation and maintenance of Song of the Vowels led to an examination of the physical structure. Small holes had developed and were allowing moisture to penetrate the bronze and compromise the structure, so the sculpture was sent to the Williamstown Art Conservation Center for expert scientific analysis and conservation treatment. The planned return of Song of the Vowels provided an excellent opportunity to redesign the plaza between Uris and Olin Libraries, and landscape architect John Ullberg was hired to re-conceptualize the installation. He created a communal space that focuses attention on the sculpture, placed atop a limestone pedestal in a plaza that incorporates granite pavers, stone benches and new landscaping. The restored sculpture has now come back to its home, where it is appreciated by a new generation of Cornellians.
The Bather, too, has a new location. It now stands near the entrance to Olin Library, within sight of Song of the Vowels.
Uris Library Historical Tour, Cornell University, last accessed September 15, 2018.