Art and Community

They call it a paw print, a lunar landscape, an egg, and a frownie face. One student said it represents all of the above—a symbolic realization of the evolutionary cycle from egg to footprint to the futuristic embryo of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The first time I walked across campus and saw the sculpture, I altered my course to get a closer look, hoping to figure out what it represented. I looked for a plaque of some kind and, finding none, assumed that the origins and meaning of the sculpture might be lost in the mists of time.

I became accustomed to calling it the “Textor fish” or the “Textor ball.” After all, you have to call it something. The sculpture’s everyday familiarity as a central feature of the campus, though, cannot mask the mystery of its origins.

Imagine the excitement I felt when I first learned that the artist, Jack Squier, still lives in the area for part of the year. I wrote Jack to ask if he and his wife, Jane, would have dinner with me. I told him I wanted to hear why he created the sculpture and how it came to be placed on the IC campus. I said I wanted to fill him in on how important the sculpture is to the IC community—that the campus would feel naked without it. I did not mention in that first message the question that I really wanted to ask. I figured I had to be in a room with him before I could ask the one question we all want the answer to: “What is it?”

My dream dinner finally took place this past July. My wife, Amber, and I met on campus with Jack and Jane Squier along with a few other Ithaca-area friends of the college. We stood near the sculpture and Jack said he was pleased at how well it has been cared for over the years. I learned that Howard Dillingham had first commissioned the work after seeing a smaller version of it in a New York gallery. A former trustee of the college, David Mandeville, donated the sculpture to IC in honor of his grandfather Hubert. I learned that Jack executed the sculpture over several hot summer weeks, the atmosphere in his workshop a dense soup of styrene foam particles and strands of fiberglass.

Having toasted the artist and praised the sculpture, we walked across the quad to dinner in the Whalen Center for Music, in a room with a commanding view of both the sculpture and Cayuga Lake. There we spoke about artistic vision and other elevated topics before I finally summoned my nerve. “Jack, what is that sculpture called? What does it represent?”

Jack gave me a measured look, and I thought he was going to reprimand my discomfort with ambiguity. Then he laughed and said that he originally planned to call it “The Head.” President Dillingham begged him to reconsider, saying that if it were called “The Head” it would be irresistible to students to paint eyes, a nose, and a mustache on it. And that is how the sculpture came to be called instead “The Disk.”

I looked once again out the window of the Whalen Center. The sculpture glinted back in the golden light of a late summer evening. I was relieved that knowing it was called “The Disk” did nothing to change its wonderfully inscrutable character. It can still be a ball or a fish or an egg. More importantly it can still serve as a nearly 50-year-old representation of the IC campus community.