Walk among the sculptures of Northwood University

Northwood University is a place of higher education, but it is also home to 11 sculptures that provide a public art collection open to the entire Midland community.

The sculptures – some data, some commissioned – are available to the public for reflection and inspiration.

The Daily News recently went on a tour with Justin Marshall, vice president of advancement and business development at Northwood, to learn more about these public works of art.

Saluting the past

One of the features of the Northwood campus is its Freedom Trail, which stretches from the main entrance to the center of campus. About halfway down the trail stands “Lincoln on the Prairie”, depicting a young Abraham Lincoln reading on horseback. The statue, donated to the school in 1967 by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, was Northwood’s first public art installation. According to Marshall, there are only five copies of “Lincoln on the Prairie” in the world, and Northwood is honored to have one.

“When she sculpted it, she wanted to sculpt Lincoln’s commitment to lifelong learning,” Marshall said of Huntington. “She was considered one of the 20 greatest in Americae-women sculptors of the century, so it’s pretty cool to have her here.

Most of Northwood’s sculptures are in the campus Founders Garden, a shaded area with walking paths. It is the site of Northwood’s newest sculpture, donated last fall by Michael Alfano. His works depict life-size statues of Rose and Milton Friedman seated on a bench. Milton Friedman was a Nobel Prize-winning economist and wrote the foreword to “When We Are Free,” Northwood’s book of essays and appeals for liberal thought. It is one of two sculptures, but this rendition has an elongated bench for visitors to sit next to the couple.

A little further down the path is “Boy”, a figure of a young boy reading with a bird perched on the book. The artist is unknown, but Marshall said the statue was donated by James Mestdagh – a Northwood elder – and the Mestdagh family. Marshall noted that its location in the wooded area of ​​campus is a good fit, linking studies and nature.


Until the interpretation

Towards the middle of the Founders Garden is a stainless steel sculpture, “Man and Sail”, by Gideon Graetz. This piece is more abstract, leaving room for individual interpretation. While Graetz created the sculpture in 1982, it was donated to the university by Mike and Sara Whiting in 2017. That same year, the Whitings donated a second work of art by Graetz, “Embrace”, which stands in front of the DeVos Graduate School. .

“I look at ‘Man and Sail’ as our historic desire to push beyond the next horizon,” Marshall said. “It speaks to our desire to explore. As future entrepreneurs, it’s a good reminder that for us to be successful and the community to grow, we have to push the boundaries and say, “What’s next?”

Another abstract piece is James Ackston’s “The Ballerina” from 1980. The sculpture was originally donated to the university in 1992 and was parked at a few locations – including the Northwood campus in Florida – before being placed in Founders Garden.

A few abstract sculptures are placed outside the Mall Walk and Founders Garden. Bruce M. Davis’ eight-foot piece stands outside the NADA Hotel and Conference Center. Davis created the piece in 1991 and it was dedicated in 1998. Northwood students were invited to submit names for the sculpture; the winner was Ronald Rachwitz, who named it “The Spirit of Freedom”.

Jeannette Hare’s artwork ‘Mother and Child’ is located south of the Mall Walk Plaza. While “Lincoln on the Prairie” towers over passers-by, Hare’s sculpture is much smaller. It depicts a woman cradling her young child; while some see her as protective and loving, many have noted a sadder emotion coming from the woman. No information was available on the date of creation or installation.

Symbolic sculptures

A focal point of Founders Garden is “Founders Flame” by Michigan artist Tom Moran, who donated the artwork in 2019. Although the sculpture itself is a bit abstract, Moran provided a explanation on a plaque near the facility. The metal sculpture not only resembles a flame, but is surrounded by a hearth that is constantly lit.

“The fire around it is emblematic of the ‘Northwood Idea,'” Marshall said. “The flame never goes out; the flame of the Northwood Idea never goes out either. It is meant to be a place of reflection and inspiration for our students.

Moran donated another piece, titled “Heart or Soul?” in 2013. It is a welded globe with enough space for the lights to emanate from the center. According to the description provided by Moran, the light could represent hope, creativity or courage.

In keeping with Northwood’s theme and what it represents, Midland’s Joan Most created “Freedom”, a sculpture of a bald eagle. Most, daughter of famed Midland sculptor and artist, the late Jim Hopfensperger, was commissioned to create the statue in honor of Dr. Dale Haywood, a Northwood teacher who died in 2006. “Freedom” was dedicated in 2019.

“His family didn’t want him to look like him, but they wanted something that symbolized his life,” Marshall said of Haywood. “He taught economics and free enterprise and was more passionate about the Northwood idea than anyone.”

There’s always room for one more sculpture on the Northwood campus, Marshall said. There are plans to add public art at the start of the Northwood Freedom Trail near the Pere Marquette Rail Trail.

Public art is restorative, Marshall said. For him outdoor art offers a focal point, a chance to slow down and experience a few moments away from the digital world and even inspiration.

“I think it inspires creativity, even if you don’t know it,” Marshall said. “I think there’s something going on in your brain when you look at beautiful artwork that says, ‘What could I do? It makes you think a little differently.

Marshall hopes members of the Midland community will feel welcome to come to Northwood, walk or bike the Freedom Trail, enjoy the art and have fun. The sculptures are illuminated at night, allowing students and visitors to appreciate the art at any time. No invitation or appointment is necessary to visit.

“This campus is our students’ campus,” Marshall said, “but it’s also Midland’s campus.”

This is part of a limited series on public art in Midland. Permanent installations, including murals and sculptures around the city, will be presented.