Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary.
You know that big weird sculpture behind Lowden Hall? The one where the geese might attack you if you try to get too close? It’s actually a really valuable piece of art by one of the most famous sculptors in the world.
It’s Le Baron, by renowned artist Alexander Calder. This nickel steel-plate sculpture was first displayed in France before being deconstructed, shipped to DeKalb, and reassembled. Calder himself chose the sculpture’s location and direction after studying maps and photos of NIU.
Calder installed these large-scale sculptures around the world. One of his most famous pieces, Flamingo, resides in the Federal Center Plaza in Chicago. (Le Baron predates that sculpture, by the way.) And his works can still be seen in the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
NIU purchased Le Baron for $50,000 in 1967, to symbolize the university’s evolving aspirations as a progressive school in tumultuous times. At its dedication, incoming NIU president Rhoten Smith said:
“If we wish to experience this sculpture as a work of art, we must be willing to immerse ourselves completely in it as a unique visual event, hopefully not clinging to bits of floating data concerning the who, the what, the where, and the how much… [but] with an open acceptance of its potentialities and a keen awareness of it as a unique visual event happening before us, to us, within us, here and now.”