Historic Statuary Collection to be Displayed at New Alumni Center


Photo of a statue to be placed in Statuary Hall

This statue of Artemis is one of many that will line the walls of the new Statuary Hall at Southeast Missouri State University.


June 20, 2007 – Thanks to the generosity of two key alumni, the grandeur of Statuary Hall will be returned to Southeast Missouri State University.

The Louis Houck Statuary Collection which once graced the hallways of Academic Hall and most recently has been on display in the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum, will return to the institution in all its glory – this time in the University’s new Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center.

The Class of 1957, which will be celebrating its 50th reunion during Homecoming festivities in October, led in the efforts to raise $100,000 to have the statues restored and moved to the new Alumni Center, formerly the First Baptist Church at 926 Broadway. The two key alumni, whose donation energized the statuary project and whose names are not being released at this time, will be publicly recognized during Homecoming 2007 festivities.

The statues will line the walls of an auditorium area being created in the new Alumni Center, formerly the church sanctuary. The Alumni Center will be relocating to the renovated space later this summer from its current location in the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center at 1401 N. Sprigg Street.

Wayne Smith, vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the Southeast Missouri University Foundation, made the announcement to the University’s Board of Regents this week.

“Alumni have always associated these statues with their stay at Southeast,” said Dr. Stanley Grand, director of the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. “The statues are treasures. I view them as representing an essential aspect of the University. I am glad they are not going into a storage space because they are very important symbolically.”

Jane Stacy, director of alumni services and development, said, “The statuary is traditional. It is a remembrance of the past as we continue building the future.”

The collection will be on permanent display in its new location beginning Oct. 19-21 during Homecoming 2007 festivities, she said. Renovation work currently is under way in the former sanctuary building. When it reopens as the Alumni Center, it will feature an exterior patio area on the west side of the building, which will serve as the main entrance to the facility. The new exterior entrance, coupled with the statuary collection indoors, will serve as a warm venue for welcoming alumni for a variety of events as they return home to their alma mater, Smith said.

The moving of the statuary comes as the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum is preparing to relocate to its new space at River Campus. Due to the planned theme of the new Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum, the Statuary Collection will not be relocated there, Grand said. The new museum will focus on the archaeology, history and fine arts of the southeast Missouri region.

The statues originally were exhibited in the Palace of Education and the Palace of Liberal Arts as part of the Louisiana Purchase Exhibition at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, an event which served as a platform for the world’s resources, their industries and progress in civilization. World’s Fairs, at that time, were venues for manufacturers to showcase their wares and sophisticated science discoveries, Grand said.

“This was before television and mass media,” he said. “They were one place you could go and see the wonders of the world.”

The Louis Houck Statuary Collection consists of casts representing the finest examples of Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance and Modern sculpture housed in European museums. Created in the late 1800s by August Gerber of Cologne, Germany, most of the reproductions were installed as part of the German exhibit at the 1904 World’s Fair.

According to a receipt signed by Gerber, he sold a “collection of statuary” for $1,888.25 to the State Normal School in Cape Girardeau on Oct. 19, 1904. The “collection” won a gold medal at the World’s Fair and consisted of Gerber’s prize-winning statues, which were “made of a special and secret substance composed in part of alabaster, and are of the same size and finish as the originals.”

Although described initially as a “friend of the school,” the donor later was identified as Louis Houck, a long-time member of the school’s Board of Regents.

The statues’ “hard and superior finish” caused U.S. Customs agents to classify them as pottery and not casts, and in consequence, subject to import duties. After the officials were convinced of their true composition, the statues were shipped by steamboat down the Mississippi River, unloaded, and brought to the then college by horse and wagon.

In March 1905, Gerber installed the casts in a specially created Statuary Hall in the new Academic Hall. The new Academic Hall replaced the Normal School lost to a fire in 1902. The architectural style of the new building was neoclassical, Grand said, a shift from the former brick structure. The building featured a dome, which remains today, representative of the western humanistic tradition of Rome.

“The inclusion of these statues solidified that vision and the changed aspirations of this University to a broader liberal arts institution,” Grand said. “They made a statement about where this institution was going.”

“It is appropriate for the statuary to be showcased in the new Alumni Center,” Stacy said. “It is my understanding that when the church was built in 1926, the congregation built it in a Greek Revival style. They felt that if they could not pay for the building, they could sell it to the then college.”

Most of the pieces in the statuary collection represent Roman figures and characters in Greek mythology. Featured statues include a large Herculaneum woman, Hebe, a bacchante, Artemis from Gabii, Bacchus, St. George and Minerva Giustiniani. Featured among the busts are Charioteer of Delphi, Bambino, Demosthenes, St. Leonard, Hermes and the Infant Dionysus, Lorenzo de’ Medici, Homer, Diana and Cicero.

In 1905, Houck made further purchases of an Apollo Belvedere ($150) and a Venus de Milo ($90), both of which had arrived in Cape Girardeau by March 1906. Houck ordered six additional busts from Gerber during Gerber’s stay in Cape Girardeau.

The statues remained in Academic Hall until 1959, when space requirements caused them to be dispersed around campus, including in Kent Library. In 1976, Museum Director James Parker consolidated the remaining works. After restoration by John Selph and Michael Boswell, the statues were installed in the University Museum, currently located in Memorial Hall.

Before they are moved to the new Alumni Center, the Museum plans to contract with a plaster conservator who will assess the statues and make recommendations about any possible work needing to be done to them. University Facilities Management staff also will be working on HVAC and climate control issues this summer at the new Alumni Center in preparation for housing the statues there.

The collection consists of large and medium-sized statues, busts and reliefs.

One of the pieces, likely the Lorenzo de Medici bust, will be relocated to the new museum at River Campus as a representation of the collection, Grand said.