Beyond the Berman’s Walls
At Ursinus College, you can feel at home before ever setting foot in a building.
These works of art have a permanent place in Collegeville—landmarks as well known to the Ursinus faithful as the Bomberger Tower or the Eger Gate. But how did a humble liberal arts college come to steward one of the greatest campus sculpture gardens in the world? Naturally, it starts with the namesake of the Berman Museum.
Ninety percent of the sculptures that adorn the 170-acre campus were yielded from the college’s historic partnership with Philip and Muriel Berman—a partnership that blossomed from a culture of giving. John Van Ness was the first-ever vice president for advancement at Ursinus, leading a capital campaign from 1984-89. Brought on by President Richard Richter, Van Ness already had an established relationship with Phillip Berman.
“Upon arriving at the college, I discovered that Phil had attended Ursinus for one year in 1933,” said Van Ness. “At that time, the college did not maintain records for students who hadn’t graduated.”
Van Ness initiated contact with the Bermans on behalf of the College in 1984. “Gradually, we found ways to involve them in the college as major art patrons,” he said.
The Bermans mounted their first on-campus exhibition in the recently renovated Fetterolf House, which was the college’s studio art facility at the time. The building now known as the Berman Museum was the Memorial Library, built in 1921 with two spacious fireproof vaults for books and precious documents. On Monday, October 17, 1921, a student journalist wrote on the front page of The Ursinus Weekly (the student newspaper before there was The Grizzly),“Who knows but what these vaults will be explored in some far distant age just as the libraries of old Babylon now buried under the debris of thousands of years, are being searched for their wealth of ancient lore.”
That article turned out to be a bit prophetic. One hundred years later, those fireproof vaults house a collection of over 8,000 pieces of art, including paintings by Picasso, sculptures by Henry Moore, and expansive collections from prominent historic and contemporary artists.
After the Myrin Library was built in 1970 (and the Memorial Library became a snack bar and student unition hall), Van Ness, Richter, and Phillip Berman scouted the space that would become an international artistic treasure trove. Van Ness recalls Berman saying, “Library buildings make good art museums. This building deserves more than serving as a hoagie hangout!”
The rest, as they say, is history, but the Bermans’ collection doesn’t simply exist inside the museum’s walls. In 1988, they made perhaps their most significant addition to the Ursinus campus—quite literally changing its physical landscape—when they donated famed sculptures by artist Lynn Chadwick (1914-2003).
Lisa Tremper Hanover, the Berman Museum’s first director, said the Bermans “[laid] the groundwork for integrating sculpture throughout the living and learning environment on campus.”
The museum retains over 160 works by Chadwick, which is the greatest concentration of his work in the United States. Any person who has ever walked around the Ursinus campus is familiar with British sculptor’s abstract geometric sculptures. Many have sat with Seated Couple (formally Sitting Couple on Bench), greeted the gaze of The Watchers, or admired the Three Elektras in the everchanging garden outside the Berman steps. For decades now, Chadwick’s creations have been a meaningful element of the Ursinus experience.
But they aren’t the only spectacular pieces forming Ursinus’s artistic ecosystem. J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s real-to-life sculptures—the aforementioned knitter and gardener—were gifted by the Bermans in the 1990s. Other individual sculpture donors include Betty U. Musser ’42 and artist George R. Anthonisen.
“Our outdoor sculpture collection is a key facet of the Berman’s mission to integrate art within the living and learning environment of the college,” Berman Museum Executive Director Lauren McCardel said.
“Stewarding these sculptures, along with the rest of our collection, is a core responsibility of the museum.”
Over the years, many of the sculptures have sustained wear and tear due to long term exposure to the elements. This year, with the support of some generous donors, the Berman Museum is launching a fundraising initiative to raise money for the conservation and maintenance of this important collection.
Kayla Federline Gephart ’10, who participated in the last major sculpture cleaning campaign, says she won’t ever forget her experience cleaning the hundreds of “cubbies” of Mary Unger’s Temple, a porous dome creating curved shadows over the lawn between Myrin Library and Pfahler Hall.
McCardel cites donors as making our world-class sculpture garden a reality. “As we look ahead, I’m excited to build momentum around the collective effort needed to conserve and protect these sculptures,” she said, adding, “And perhaps even continue to grow the collection!”
Interacting with the sculptures on the Collegeville campus is not only allowed; it is almost impossible to avoid. Walk by their perches. Sit with them. Investigate and appreciate. Let your imagination decipher meaning and messages. Phillip and Muriel Berman have passed away (1997, 2004), but their transformative additions to our campus—those made of iron, aluminum, stone, discarded metals found in the Schuylkill River, and of other elements—will help map your experiences and illustrate your life in our place of learning.
The friendly Chadwicks and lifelike Sewards cannot get to know you, but they may mark the memory of a budding romance, a bibulous adventure, or a twilit walk with a friend. The garden breathes life into the background of our lives and connects us more meaningfully to our bucolic environment.
“Everywhere you look, there are works of art that significantly enhance the experience of being on our campus,” McCardel said. “What I think is even more noteworthy, though, is the way the collection brings art into the day-to-day lives of our community, enabling students, faculty and staff, and members of our local community to experience the power of living with art.”
To celebrate this unique piece of the Ursinus landscape, Ursinus Magazine asked a few members of the Berman Museum’s extended family to share their favorites.
Lisa Hanover, former Berman Museum director: Seated Couple
“My favorite work by Chadwick in our collection is Seated Couple, which graces the front lawn adjacent to the Berman Museum of Art and Bomberger Hall. It has power and scale. Several of my wedding pictures were taken around this sculpture. Another favorite sculpture is Mary Ann Unger’s Temple, an early addition to our collection. This piece was originally painted red with orange pinstriping along the edges. Many students and faculty used it as a sanctuary or taught a class within its structure.”
John Van Ness, former vice president for advancement: The Watchers
“I became very attracted to Lynn Chadwick’s sculpture, particularly since Phil gave the college a complete set of representative works from Chadwick’s entire oeuvre. I remember the trio of pieces to the right of Corson Hall fondly; during my tenure I was permitted to borrow two Chadwick maquettes from the collection, which stood on my office desk throughout my tenure.”
Kayla Federline Gephart ’10, art historian: Temple
“[It] was by far the most tedious to clean, which is probably why it’s my favorite. Not only was it rewarding to see the difference, but it also allowed me to meditate on it for longer than the others. I saw the piece from every angle and in various lights (it took days—plural—to clean). I touched every weld, every bolt, every piece of metal. I’m not sure that maintenance is top of mind for artists when they create a piece—and the people who maintain them, probably even less so—but I feel like by cleaning it, I truly came to know that piece in a way that few others ever will. Admittedly, I didn’t love it when I first saw it, but the more time I spent with Temple, the more I liked it.”
Lauren McCardel, Berman Museum executive director: Praha/Rebirth
“My answer is different every time I’m asked this question! This week, though, the piece I’m particularly enjoying is Steve Tobin’s Praha/Rebirth, located outside Wismer. It has a different effect on me each time I walk by it—the way the light plays on the steel at different times of day, or at different angles, makes it a unique experience every time. I love being surprised by something I think I’m familiar with.”
Deborah Barkun, Creative Director of Berman Museum: Monitor
“I’m always intrigued by the ways that Lynn Chadwick’s Monitor (1965) frames views of campus and places the viewer in a position of deliberate active looking. When looking through Monitor’s aperture, even subtle shifts in posture affect what we see, sensitizing us to the visual environment. To me, the interactivity of Monitor serves as a reminder of the complex dynamics of looking.”
Teddi Caputo ’18, Berman Museum curatorial assistant: The Watchers
“I like them because I think they have an ambivalent presence on campus. They aren’t automatically readable. They appear ominous and comforting—like protectors. I don’t really know what they are watching, but the more years I’ve spent on campus, the more I feel they are watching over me. I think they are a great example of what Lynn Chadwick’s work is at its best. I love all the Chadwicks, though. They are my friends!”
Matt Nieves Hoblin ’23, Anthropology and Sociology major: Seated Couple
“I have passed them almost every day for the past three years and have grown to love them. They are my favorite not only because I love the design, but also because I feel like they have ‘greeted me’ every day as I walk to class, to Wismer, or just stroll through campus with friends. It’s become somewhat of a tradition now that whenever I pass them with my girlfriend, we say hi to them and laugh.”
Peter “Pedro” Looft, campus safety officer: Getting Involved VIII
“I really like the knitting woman near Corson Hall, followed by closely by the famous Love statue. I was here when they painted the Love statue around 2010.”