The brand new Wellness Center wasn’t the only new structural addition to the St. John’s Prep campus during the 2017-18 school year. Six modernistic and unconventional steel sculptures by American artist Ernest Shaw—a gift of Bill Smith GP ’18 and his daughter, Keelin Dawe P ’18—were formally dedicated Commencement weekend. More photos on SmugMug.
“These works of art are part of my childhood, my family and my dad’s legacy,” said Mrs. Dawe, whose husband, Joe, is a 1987 St. John’s alumnus, while the couple’s son, Forrest, graduated on May 20. “That they now have a place to rest, it warms my soul that they’re here and will be loved and appreciated and taken care of and talked about.”
Mr. Smith, who offered the sculptures to St. John’s, seemed particularly intrigued by the notion that the artwork, which had stood for decades on the grounds of the family’s rural, upstate New York home, would be a conversation-starter.
“They’ll be here for generations to come,” said Smith, who acquired the sculptures via two separate purchases in the late 1970s and early ’80s. “I can almost hear the discussions they will spark on campus. They will be described with a variety of phrases and words of energy. Most often, I suspect the reaction to them will be distilled to three words: ‘What is it?’”
The individual works are abstract and highly distinct. The artist, Shaw, has called the experience of welding steel into unique shapes “intense and magical,” and the new additions to the Prep campus bear that out.
The rectilinear “Valor” is located on the lawn in front of the Administration Building, near the intersection of Spring and Summer streets. Across Spring Street at the head of the walkway to the Brother Keefe, C.F.X. Academic Center, passersby will find the sharp-angled tilt of “Impact.” The whimsically curved “Earthquake/The Embrace” sits near Memorial Gymnasium, while the aptly named “Curvilinear” resides outside the Wellness Center. The only stainless steel sculpture, what some students say looks like a silver, freestanding portal to another dimension, is entitled “Positive and Negative.” The last piece in the collection, “The Vessel,” is a beehive-shaped steel receptacle about two feet tall and weighing over 200 pounds. It has been installed in the A. E. Studzinski Library.
“We know how special these works of art are to the Shaw and the Dawe families,” said Headmaster Edward P. Hardiman. “It’s a wonderful honor for us that they now have a home on our campus.”
The five outdoor sculptures were integral parts of Mrs. Dawe’s youth. She notes that “Positive and Negative” often served as the playtime soccer goal, while “Impact” was home base for both Whiffle Ball and games of tag.
The Dawe family has deep connections to the Prep. In addition to Forrest Dawe’s father being a graduate, his grandfather, George, is a member of the class of 1962, and his uncle, Gregory, graduated in 1989. And now, the sculptures themselves are now intertwined with the family’s educational lineage.
“I am so humbled and so grateful that the Prep has been so gracious about taking these sculptures on,” said Mrs. Dawe. “As the wife of an alum and as the parent of a student, to have the mom’s side of the family have a role in this artwork having a special place on this campus, I get goosebumps every time I think about it.”