Crime & Courts

Sculptures vandalized at Wichita State University

At least 11 sculptures of women on the campus of Wichita State University were vandalized late Thursday night and early Friday morning, officials said. In each case, duct tape was placed over the woman’s mouth.
At least 11 sculptures of women on the campus of Wichita State University were vandalized late Thursday night and early Friday morning, officials said. In each case, duct tape was placed over the woman’s mouth. Courtesy photo

At least 11 sculptures in Wichita State University’s outdoor sculpture collection have been vandalized over the past two days, school officials announced Friday.

Duct tape was placed over the mouths of women portrayed in the sculptures, officials said. Some of the best known and most valuable pieces in the university’s collection were among the sculptures vandalized, including Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure” in front of Ablah Library.

“An act like this symbolically is really offensive,” said Bob Workman, director of the Ulrich Museum.

The first vandalized sculpture was discovered Thursday morning, he said. Three Women Walking, one of the best known and most valuable pieces in the sculpture collection, had duct tape over the mouth of each woman in the piece near the Rhatigan Student Center.

Workman said he discovered four or five more vandalized sculptures Thursday night, when he had stayed late for a memorial service. The rest were discovered overnight or first thing Friday morning.

No group has claimed credit for the vandalism, which came only days after another sculpture was covered with taped posters protesting a university decision not to discipline students who hung a banner from the side of a fraternity hose offering “free house tours” during Greek recruitment. Some students viewed the banner as encouraging sexual assault and perpetuating rape culture.

The Robert Indiana sculpture near the Heskett Center likely escaped damage because adhesive tape was used to attach the posters, Workman said.

“We’ll have conservators go over it carefully,” he said.

But the most recent vandalism may prove costly. In most cases, the vandalism was discovered before the duct tape was exposed to strong sunlight and heat, he said. The extent of the damage won’t be fully evaluated until conservators arrive next month on a regular sculpture maintenance trip.

“We think most of them are fine,” Workman said of the vandalized sculptures. “There’s a couple that we have concerns about.”

Most of the targeted sculptures are bronze and workmen used mineral spirits to remove as much of the adhesive as they could, he said.

“There’s another one that’s a different kind of metal, and we think there might be a little bit of damage to the patina,” Workman said.

University officials denounced the vandalism.

“Defacing great works of art is an attack on freedom of speech, artistic expression and the very nature of the university,” WSU president John Bardo said in a prepared statement, calling the sculpture collection “a university and community treasure.”

“A university is an environment that must welcome many voices and the discussion of differences, and it also must respect the creativity that is the essence of humanity,” he said.

There are 76 pieces in the Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection, which have been purchased over the course of 40 years with money from student fees and private donations.

Anyone with knowledge about the vandalism is asked to contact WSU Police at 316-978-3450 or Det. Jeff Rider at 316-978-5525 or jeffery.rider@wichita.edu.

Stan Finger: 316-268-6437, @StanFinger

  Comments