Public Art at the University of Illinois

Tour curated by: ExploreCU Team

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign was established in 1868, and it was as early as 1875 that an art gallery was established in Old University Hall by Regent John Milton Gregory. Contributions were solicited from Champaign-Urbana residents, and Gregory also traveled to Europe at his own expense to obtain 260 plaster casts, 286 reproductions of famous paintings, 388 lithographed historical portraits, and an assortment of other art items. In establishing the University’s first fine art gallery, Gregory also established a long history of art collection.

Over the years, the University has slowly acquired art through donations and gifts, purchasing programs, student and faculty creation, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and state public art, or percent for art programs.

Today, students, faculty, and visitors to the University see art almost everywhere they look – on building facades, street corners, hallways, rotundas, and walkways. The University is home to two renowned museums, the Krannert Museum and the Spurlock Museum, as well as Allerton Park & Retreat Center, which is filled with sculptures acquired by art collector and enthusiast Robert Allerton.

This is a tour of public art found on the UIUC campus, including sculpture, paintings, reliefs, and other mediums.



Related sources:

Scheinman, Muriel. (1981). Art collecting at the University of Illinois. Urbana, Illinois: the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Locations for Tour

In 1923 the university's supervising architect asked Lorado Taft's advice about putting a marble or bronze bust in the Lincoln Hall niche, observing it had been suggested that "Borglum's head of Lincoln, the original of which is…

Since its dedication, Alma Mater has been a symbol of the University of Illinois. Affectionately referred to as ‘Alma’, she stands in front of her throne with open arms welcoming visitors, students, and alumni to the heart of campus. Although a…

Preston Jackson received his Master of Fine Arts (MFA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Since then he has worked as a professor at many different schools. He currently is a sculpture professor and head of the Figurative Area at the…

Taken from their original context, these architectural fragments ought to be regarded as art, seen independently but with regard to their original function as part of a building's design. The heavy granite impost block just north of the…

The Architecture building, also known as "Architecture and Kindred Subjects," was designed in the Georgian Revival style by Charles A. Platt in 1926-1927. Platt, who also designed ten other buildings on campus including the University…

Illinois-born Edward McCullough, deeply impressed by four years of sea duty with the United States Navy, wrote that he related this piece to the ancient Greek story of Jason and his heroic shipmates, the Argonauts, that it forged a link between the…

Arnold 0. Beckman, born a blacksmith's son in Cullom, Illinois, in 1900, earned his B.S. degree in chemical engineering at the University of illinois in 1922 and completed his master's degree in physical chemistry the following year. He…

Although White's 32-foot-long, Cor-ten steel sculpture complements its architectural setting, appearing as a fluid orange line sweeping through space, contrasting in form and spirit with the rather plain, factory-like brick structure behind it,…

At the entrance to the Foellinger Great Hall of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts is Bourdelle's strong, leonine bronze head of Beethoven, bent forward in intense concentration, brow furrowed, lips and eyes tightly shut, nearly black…

Centennial commemorates the one hundredth anniversary of the art department's start of classes in the fall of 1876, a full semester before trustees officially approved the department's establishment the following March. Placed on a grassy…

Born in 1931 in Jackson, Ohio, Fletcher Benton relocated to San Francisco after graduating from Miami University in 1956. In 1966 Fletcher started teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute and established himself as a primary figure in American…

Originally called "the blobs" by Chicago-artist and creator Tony Tasset, the colorful sculptures now known as Darwin's Playground have become well-known on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Darwin's…

From 1910 throughout the rest of his Life, Taft hoped to beautify the old Columbian Exposition Midway Plaisance in Chicago by creating a mile-long expanse of trees, lawns, fountains, and "statues of the world's greatest idealists." A…

In 1928 the architectural finn of Holabird and Root commissioned this delightful fountain for the owners of Chicago's Michigan Square Building (Time-Life Building after 1945). It was Milles's first work created solely for an American site,…

Dr. Thomas Gallaudet founded the first free school for the deaf in the United States, the American School for the Deaf, in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817. He is shown in this naturalistic sculptural portrait with Alice Cogswell, the child who sparked…

In an era when bronze statues immortalized heroes, a modest pantheon came into being: an Editors' Hall of Fame. Established in 1927 by the lllinois Press Association to "preserve the spirit and achievement of notable members of the…

Bathsheba Grossman is an artist based out of Santa Cruz, California who describes herself as "a sculptor exploring the space between art, math, and life." Major themes in her work center around "living in three dimensions, finding…

The cast iron panels on the east and west walls of the entrance lobby to the Architecture Building are from the facade of the Gage Building, 18 South Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, designed by Louis H. Sullivan and erected in 1888-1889. The three…

Lorenzo Ghiberti, a Florentine sculptor from the early Renaissance period, is best known as the artist behind the bronze doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence, Italy. Installed on the east side of the baptistery in 1452 and dubbed the…

Richard Hunt's massive steel sculpture stands before the Veterinary Medicine Building as a big dark abstract form that seems strangely and vaguely recognizable. A combination of natural, flamelike outcrops and sharp-edged chunky planes, the work…

The Hallene Gateway was originally the entrance to University Hall, which was also known as New Main Hall or the New University Building. Built in 1872, University Hall was the the fourth building on campus, after the Mechanical Building and Drill…

Few people know that a nominal Illinois Farmers' Hall of Fame exists at the University. Except for elaborately engraved invitations to dedication exercises, some newspaper notices, a few letters preserved in the archives, and old identification…

Artist: Barry Tinsley Type: Four-piece grouping of cut stone Location: South-east of the Medical Sciences Building This piece was acquired through the 1/2% for the Arts' Art-in-Architecture initiative.

Initiation, a powerful ten-foot-tall bronze constructed of planar and ribbon shapes, varied hollow spaces and rhythmic curved edges, while nonrepresentational, still suggests in proportion and stance a totemic human figure at once guarding and…

Harry Breen's vividly colored ceramic sculpture at the entrance to the Colwell Theatre honors Joseph Wright Scott, a respected member of the Department of Speech and Theatre from 1936 until his retirement in 1972. lnscribed on the base are the…

At the invitation of President Andrew Draper, Katharine Lucinda Sharp (1865-1907) came to the university in the fall of 1893 to establish a professional library program and to build a major library. For four years prior to that, she had occupied a…

Unfortunately, not much is known about this piece. If you have any information, please contact the ExploreCU team!

To memorialize "the first citizen of this state to be elected President of the United States, the signer of the bill which made the state university possible, and the consistent and persevering friend of higher education and the nation,"…

In the Fall of 2013, visitors to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign may have noticed a new face outside the east entrance of the Alice Campbell Alumni Center: A life sized bronze sculpture of sixteenth president and longtime Illinois…

This large-scale plaster relief commemorates the Lincoln-Douglas debate of October 13, 1858, the sixth in a series of seven oratorical contests waged throughout lllinois between the two men running for election to the U.S. Senate. The bronze casting…

Liberman's aesthetic tastes derive from early twentieth-century Russian Constructivism: a predilection for the non-figurative, architectural, and geometric; for machine-age materials and techniques; for constructed, not modeled or carved, forms;…

The Depression-era mural in the Natural Resources Building map room reflects a major change of taste since Barry Faulkner had painted his four library murals some six or so years earlier. Innocuous embellishment and anecdotal classical imagery no…

Nathan Austin Weston was the first acting Dean of the College of Commerce and Business Administration (CBA) from 1915-1919. In 1997 his daughter Janet L. Weston gifted this fountain to the University in memoriam of her father, and the fountain was…

This piece was dedicated in September 2002 and was a gift from Robert (class of 1950) and Ruth (class of 1949) Vogele.

The grimly earnest, realistic figural group cast in bronze from this original plaster stands in a park in Taft's birthplace, Elmwood, lllinois. At the base is the inscription, "To the Pioneers / Who bridged the streams / Subdued the soil…

Beautifully tinted glass designs, colored primarily in soft grays, browns, and ambers and representing the marks of printers in France, Italy, Scotland, England, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, embellish twenty-seven of the library's…

University High School, designed in "Collegiate Gothic" style by the notable Chicago Firm of Holabird and Roche, was built in 1916-1918. It opened as a practice high school for the College of Education on September 21, 1921, with about one…

From 1910 throughout the rest of his Life, Taft hoped to beautify the old Columbian Exposition Midway Plaisance in Chicago by creating a mile-long expanse of trees, lawns, fountains, and "statues of the world's greatest idealists." A…

The first football game in a still far-from-completed Memorial Stadium took place November 3, 1923, when the stands overflowed with more than sixty thousand lllini enthusiasts who cheered their team on to a 7-0 triumph over the University of Chicago.…

Aycock's Tree of Life Fantasy appears on the landscape as an intriguing machine or play apparatus that gives no hint of function. The painted white sculpture is at once a mix of opaque, transparent, and linear parts: kinetic roller-coaster…

Christiane Martens had her sculpture Tsunami Ascending placed at the far end of the patio so that it would not be dwarfed by the building's monumental size. It stands out because of its bright red color against the surrounding evergreens. A…

Umbilic Torus NC weighs 100 lbs. and spans 27" x 27" x 9" (enveloping torus). It was completed in 1987. Not much is known about this piece. If you have any information, please contact the ExploreCU team!

This intriguing bronze group harmonizes perfectly with the other outdoor pieces placed along the same street: Basaldella's Initiation and Youngman's Centennial. All evoke a sense of archaeological discovery, of mysterious meaning, of…

By its very scale, its prominence, and its contrasts of shapes, materials and textures, Upwells attracts attention. It is participatory; people can move through the middle and children can play in the water. And it is educational, illustrating basic…

The Federal Land-Grant College Act, known also as the Morrill Act, passed by Congress in 1862, gave the states public lands to establish colleges offering studies in engineering, agriculture, and home economics, as well as traditional academic…
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