“Plaster casts from the antique”

This afternoon I went back to look more closely at some of the images taken by Norman Hurd Ricker, ’16, ’17, ’20, and this one caught my eye:

It’s labeled “Sculpture Gallery, 1915” but I’ve never seen anything like it. At first I thought it couldn’t have been taken at Rice, but all the other photographs in this section of Ricker’s scrapbook were clearly taken on campus so I guess this one probably was too.

So what is this?

The Rice charter specifically mandates that the Institute procure and maintain “scientific collections; collections of chemical and physical apparatus, mechanical and artistic models, drawings, pictures and statues . . ..” I’ve known this in the back of my mind for a couple of decades but I never thought about it intentionally until today. I remembered that the older General Announcements contain long descriptions of the laboratories and their equipment so I went and had a look and they did indeed shed some light on this.

Until the Physics Building was completed in 1914, Chemistry, Biology and Physics were all crammed into the Mech Lab with the Engineers. When the new building opened, Physics, Biology and EE moved over there, freeing up more space in the Mech Lab for the architects. The 1915 General Announcements describe their facilities for the first time: “A working library of architecture adjoins the drafting room and is equipped with the standard architectural publications; current files of architectural periodicals; plates, photographs, and lantern slides. The freehand studio is well equipped with plaster casts from the antique, and of historic ornament.” I think what we’re looking at here are those plaster casts.

Bonus: I can’t help but notice the Venus de Milo right up front, which of course puts me in mind of a great read on that topic by a Rice alumnus:  Disarmed: The Story of the Venus de Milo by Greg Curtis, ’66. It’s good, I promise.

Extra Bonus: Here are the 1914 General Announcements. It’s all pretty interesting but most relevant here is pp.38-9, where the architecture department describes its program. I find it frankly beautiful.


If you don’t want to bother with all that, here’s the crux of the matter: “all courses conspire to the cultivation of creative and constructive ability in expression and design.”

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6 Responses to “Plaster casts from the antique”

  1. Sandy Havens says:

    Melissa, you should interview Kimberly Davenport, Director of the Rice Gallery, about the process of disposing of the Rice “art collection.” I was chair of the Dept. of Art and Art History at the time; it was a nightmare.

  2. Guy says:

    During the late ’60’s these plaster replicas were gathering dust in the attic at Anderson Hall. One by one they were appropriated to furnish the off-campus houses of architecture students. The last time I saw the Venus de Milo, she sported bright red lipstick.

  3. Kathy says:

    One of the neatest galleries in one of the neatest museums in the world is the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Cast Courts.” http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/r/cast-courts-room-46a . It seems to have been a popular Victorian pastime, making copies of these famous works, in the days before HD photography. It’s interesting to learn that Rice had its own collection at one time.

  4. David M. Bynog says:

    Of the many, many fascinating posts you have made, I find this one the most interesting. I now want to know much more about these casts (so tell me more, tell me more).

  5. Pingback: “Plaster casts from the antique,” Part II | Rice History Corner

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