Hidden Treasures Abound on the U’s Campus

By Kylee Ehmann

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The U’s campus is a treasure map dotted with small monuments, pieces of artwork and spaces tucked away from plain sight. These objects and places offer a glimpse into local and international history, which students can access for little or no cost.

One of these pieces is at the Fort Douglas Museum on upper campus. Behind the facility lies Memorial Park, site of the Utah Fallen Warrior Memorial, which includes a piece of the World Trade Center’s foundation recovered after 9/11.

Robert Voyles, the museum’s director, said the project began in 2013 when Utahn “gold star mothers” — women who have lost a child in the military — asked for a space to honor their fallen loved ones. He said the monument is “very important because it keeps that memory alive.”

The park also includes the Women’s Service Memorial. Voyles said this monument was created because “women in the military have been neglected in the way of memorials or honoring them.”

The memorial doesn’t receive many U student visitors, he said, and those who do come are typically international.

“Most students don’t even know we’re here,” Voyles said.

The museum does not charge an admission fee. Funding comes from the Utah National Guard state budget, the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington D.C. and a non-profit organization. Donations from several companies and the community provided all the money for the park’s completion.

Fort Douglas is not the only place on campus to hold internationally important objects — the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) holds a small Egyptian sarcophagus that Luke Kelly, curator of antiquities, said is one of their most unique pieces. Visitors used to speculate that the small coffin holds a bird or an infant mummy, but Kelly said it’s actually a mud and grain effigy offered by a family to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, to curry favor for a deceased loved one.

“Museums throughout the world do have these coffins,” Kelly said. “Most times what would happen was as soon as someone found these and they would unwrap it and find out that it’s just mud and throw that away.”

The piece was donated by Natacha Rambova, an Egyptologist, and was one of the first pieces on display when the museum opened in the Park Building in 1951. It has been on display ever since.

UMFA also houses a statue from Thailand that casts the shadow of an elephant, an important symbol in Buddhism.

Kelly thinks the U’s museums are a wonderful opportunity for students that “never realize it’s there until [they] walk through the doors.”

Iris Moulton, the campus outreach director for UMFA, said they offer one of the broadest selections of fine art in the Intermountain West.

“It’s an important part of our mission to provide access for the community to the whole world without having to get on an airplane,” Moulton said. “We want people to feel an ownership of this museum and maybe see a reflection of themselves, or to at least learn to appreciate everything we have.”

The U also has a time capsule located outside the Union’s plaza. The capsule was lost for a period of time because no one marked where it was located after its dedication in 1959. A plaque now marks the place where it was found using sonar equipment in 2006.

The U’s history isn’t just inside museums or time capsules. Students may have noticed the bronze and acrylic book statues around the library. Chinese artist Zhao Suikang created these sculptures, in addition to the large and colorful installation on the third floor inside. The pieces reflect his experiences with the U’s book arts and special collections, including an early 9th to 11th century Arabic poetry anthology and an ancient Hebrew scroll.

The library’s grand staircase has an art glass installation by Paul Housberg that incorporates passages from pioneer diaries when the piece changes colors.

Ian Godfrey, director of facilities and operations at the Marriott Library, said funding for the projects came from Utah’s Percent for Art, which gives one percent of the cost of state buildings to commission public art.

“It’s really wonderful to see two artists who are not from Utah,” Godfrey said, “Who do not necessarily have an affiliation to the university coming and having this very strong and emotional response to collections that the library holds.”

 

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