Hidden in Plain Sight: The Purdue Lonsford Collection

Silver Bow ~ Brickhead Conversations ~ Distant Paths ~Fire Sculpture

Do you like sculpture? If so, Purdue’s campus is a great way to explore a variety of sculptures in one location. The Purdue Lonsford Collection is an endowment, which funds the permanent placement of a series of sculptures, as well as other various art forms, onto campus.

You may have passed by these beautiful sculptures many a times, yet never questioned their story.  Often hidden in plain sight, these sculptures definitely have a story worth hearing.

In that spirit.. let me tell you a little!



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Silver Bow – Deborah Butterfield

Deborah Butterfield was born on the same day as the running of the 75th Kentucky Derby. Butterfield partly credits that date as an inspiration for the subject matter of her artistic endeavor. She has said that she would have preferred to work in the female form, but her mentor, Manuel Neri, has already dominated that area of activity. Instead, she chose to create self-portraits using images of horses. Gradually, the horses themselves became her primary theme. As a perennial greeter of students, faculty and staff as they enter the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts, the horse stands as a sign of the dynamic and vital arts community within the university.


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Brickhead Conversations – James Tyler 

Two monumental Brickheadsculptures face one another across the South Campus Plaza of Purdue University. They stand in front of Pao Hall which houses the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts. Their eyes are closed. Sounds of the natural world emanate from the artworks, filling the air with morning bird calls, buzzing insects, and frantic night peepers. This ‘biophone’ of sound, recorded over several days in May 2008, is reconstructed within the architecture of the sculptures, creating a 24-hour chronology of life on earth. One additional sound element has been added to the installation; the haunting call of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Passersby interrupting motion sensors create accidental viewer participation. As the giant woodpecker’s call trumpets back and forth between the heads, a prematurely silenced conversation is revived, leaving the rest of us to ponder the meaning.

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Distant Paths – Preston Jackson 

Preston Jackson’s bronze and stainless steel sculpture was installed on the Purdue University campus on Friday, April 11, 2014 to celebrate the College of Liberal Arts’ 50th anniversary. The work, which towers 14 feet high, features four people in dynamic postures, looking out in different directions. Jackson describes the work “as routes of travel and attitudes and also the social influence — the reason people move from place to place. It’s about immigration, the psychology of immigration. My cues come from the African American experience, forced movement, the Middle Passage, crossing over and after, the hardships of being captured and brought over to America. I want them to see a oneness, a oneness in humanity, a oneness in the human experience.


Fire Sculpture – Nina Hole

Danish artist Nina Hole is best known for her Fire Sculptures, monumental ceramic structures built and fired on location. Inspired by the architecture of houses as sculptural forms, the pieces are constructed from clay slabs which function as modular building blocks. According to Nina, the resulting house-like forms serve as metaphors for one’s own body; she has described them as “ego houses.” The process of creating each sculpture is laborious and relies on the help of a team of assistants. After multiple weeks of building, the sculptures are fired during a multi-day burn. At sunset on the last day of the burn, the piece is unwrapped to reveal the finished, still-glowing form. Nina Hole’s fire sculptures are as much about the performative and communal experience of creating the piece as they are the final product. The last of Nina’s Fire Sculptures, Purdue’s commission serves as a celebration of Nina Hole’s life and legacy. With the help of Purdue student volunteers, Nina Hole’s assistants, Craig Hartenberger and Renata Cassiano, will build this sculpture outside of Pao Hall on March 22 – April 13th. Once built, the piece will be wrapped in high temperature refractory fabric and fired on-site Join us for the unveiling event on Saturday, April 16th, at sunset, approximately 9:30 pm.


Have you seen any of these sculptures on campus? Do you have any photos you’d like to share of them during different seasons of the year? Fall leaves and snow often change the overall appearance and environment of the sculptures. Please share!


* All information supplemented by Purdue’s Lonsford Collection website.



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