Walking around campus, a visitor's eye is drawn to the sculptures that have found residence here. In 2006, the Public Art Review noted WSU's outdoor sculpture collection as one of the top 10 in the nation.
Created by sculptors from Douglas Abdell to Francisco Zuniga, the works range from pieces in the classic style of Charles Grafly, born in 1862, to the most recent purchase, a newly commissioned sculpture by Tom Otterness of a giant, cartoony millipede 20 feet long.
A good number of the more than 70 sculptures in today’s collection owe their WSU home to the efforts of one man dedicated to the idea that great works of art could and should be found in Wichita, Martin H. Bush, the founding director of the Ulrich Museum of Art, which opened on Dec. 7, 1974. Bush came to Wichita State in 1971 to fill a position created for him by then President Clark Ahlberg specifically to acquire original artworks for the university.
By 1973, Bush had purchased several important sculptures, no easy feat with the minimal budget allotted to him. Even after being supplemented with student fees from the Student Government Association, most of the purchasing money came from local patrons and Bush’s many connections, both national and international.
He accepted no imitations. Perhaps his favorite sculpture story is that of a visiting Australian art aficionado, who, while touring the campus with Bush, noted that WSU had a “copy” of Kenneth Armitage’s “Mouton Variation.” Bush remained quiet. Next, they came to Lynn Chadwick’s “Teddy Boy and Girl II,” in which the visitor once again noted the “copy.” Eventually, after coming to Dame Barbara Hepworth’s “Figure (Archaean II),” the visitor figured it out, much to Bush’s amusement.
Bush was able to entice many influential figures in the art world to WSU. They included Wayne Thiebaud, Isabel Bishop, Duane Hanson and Alice Neel. Some artists came to personally explore a location for their sculptures. Henry Moore, a British modernist sculptor, created “Reclining Figure (Hand),” which can be found reclining in front of Ablah Library, after personally visiting the campus and choosing its exact site.
Louise Nevelson, who created “Night Tree,” came to WSU in 1978. She joined a printmaking class for the day, making a print with the students, and went antique shopping with Bush — before buying more than a dozen cowboy shirts at Sheplers.
Bush left WSU in 1989 for New York City, where he resides. Although he himself is no longer here, his artful presence is seen just about everywhere on campus. And his mission of bringing world-class art to the middle of America and making art an important part of the WSU experience has now been taken up by Patricia McDonnell, director of the Ulrich Museum of Art — and of the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection.