Ohio State Carves Out Rich State History

OSU Student Union © Larry Hamill

OSU Student Union © Larry Hamill

In June 2007, we began photographing the reconstruction work on The Ohio State University’s Ohio Union building. The six bas-relief sculptures shown above, which have been covered during construction, were recently unveiled for a brief period to allow for preservation work.

While they have since been recovered and will remain so until the official reopening of the Ohio Union in March 2010, we thought you might be interested in the history behind these eight-foot-tall limestone panels, which grace the facility’s 12th Avenue façade.

The sculptures were created in 1952 to commemorate the rich historical background of the State of Ohio and The Ohio State University. Renowned sculptor Marshall Fredericks, a graduate of the Cleveland School of Art,
used full-scale clay models as guides, while carving the sculptures directly onto the building.

Shown in greater detail below, the first panel honors the Native Americans who original inhabited the Ohio River Valley, including the Delaware, Miami, Shawnee and Wyandot tribes. The state name was derived from the Native American term O-Y-O, meaning the great river, in reference to the Ohio River.

The second panel represents the hardships of the westward expansion into Ohio, depicted by a guide standing beside a traveler, who has fallen on his knees to give thanks for a safe journey. The wagons in the upper left corner represent the arrival of settlers, following construction of the National Road, now known as Route 40.

Ohio’s bountiful agricultural history is depicted in the third panel, where a woman holds her baby, as Johnny Appleseed teaches her young son how to plant trees. Appleseed would spend four decades traveling throughout Ohio, helping families start orchards.

Relief Sculptures © Larry Hamill

Relief Sculptures © Larry Hamill

The fourth, fifth and sixth panels depict statesmanship and education,
Ohio’s role as a leader in agriculture, aviation and the ceramic industry and Ohio’s steel, coal and milling industries, respectively.

When the new Ohio Union is unveiled next March, two new panels entitled, Pathways of Courage and Celebration of Arts, will also grace the building.

Pathways of Courage honors Ohio’s contributions to the abolition movement in the panel’s depiction of the Underground Railroad, author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, whose writings championed civil rights and higher education for all.

The Celebration of Arts panel celebrates Ohio’s rich artistic heritage with images of George Bellows shown with his paintbrush and author and cartoonist James Thurber seated at his typewriter.

These newest panels are the work of Ohio artist Linda Langhorst and sculptor William Galloway. After seeing her designs transformed in sculptures, Langhorst said she appreciates more than ever the artistry required to effectively manipulate the play of light on solid material.

The following is from a forthcoming brochure, produced by the university, covering the history and story behind these panels:

We hope these powerful sculptures strengthen your Buckeye spirit, inspire you to dream big and achieve great things. As an Ohio State student, you have the ability and resources to make a difference in the community, the state and the nation. Be part of the tradition …“Do Something Great!”

Written by Pamela J. Willits


One response to “Ohio State Carves Out Rich State History

  1. Larry and Pamela – Love these content-rich posts! Really interesting.

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