Yale will move, restore sculpture of Puritan aiming gun at Indian
NEW HAVEN >> A stone carving of a Puritan aiming a musket at a Native American, which had been altered to cover over the gun, will be removed from the wall of Sterling Memorial Library and placed in a location where it will be available for study, Yale officials said Tuesday.
The stone sculpture, which sits over a York Street entrance to the library, has become more prominent since the Yale Center for Teaching and Learning moved into the space in January.
When the space was being renovated for the center’s move into the library, “the project team in consultation with Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces determined that leaving the depiction in place would have the unintended effect of giving it a place of honor that it does not deserve,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by Yale Press Secretary Thomas Conroy.
“The university consulted faculty and other scholarly experts, who concluded that the image depicts a scene of warfare and colonial violence toward local Native American inhabitants. … A team in charge of planning for the construction project decided to cover the depiction of the musket with removable stonework,” the statement said.
The carving is a corbel — an architectural feature attached to a wall and intended to support a structure above it. Discussions about the carving were held before the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming issued its report in December 2016. While that committee was formed in response to objections to the name of Calhoun College, it also discussed the alteration of objects such as a stained-glass window of slaveholder John C. Calhoun, in which the image of a slave was removed.
The renaming committee was formed in June 2016, after a Calhoun dining hall worker, Corey Menafee, smashed a small window that showed enslaved people in a cotton field. Calhoun was a vocal proponent of slavery and several windows, since removed, depicted him and his era. The college was ultimately renamed for Navy Adm. Grace Hopper, a computer scientist and who received master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from Yale.
The panel’s report held that Yale is obligated, when renaming buildings or removing offensive artworks, “to ensure that the removal does not have the effect of erasing history,” that any change does not distort history and that the offensive name or object be given a context in which it may be studied.
Yale’s statement on Tuesday said the decision to relocate the carving of the Puritan settler and Indian, to remove the stonework covering the musket, “contextualize it, and make it available for study” had been made based on those principles.
“The university has an obligation not to hide from or destroy reminders of unpleasant history; at the same time, the university chooses the symbols and depictions that stand in places of honor,” the statement said. “The prominence of this carving changed when its location became a main entrance to the Center for Teaching and Learning.”
In the statement, Yale President Peter Salovey said, “We cannot make alterations to works of art on our campus. Such alteration represents an erasure of history, which is entirely inappropriate at a university. We are obligated to allow students and others to view such images, even when they are offensive, and to study and learn from them.
“In carrying out this obligation, we also have a responsibility to provide information that helps all viewers understand the meaning of the image. We do so in a setting that clearly communicates that the content of the image is not being honored or even taken lightly but, rather, is deserving of thoughtful consideration and reflection.”
The carving is not now visible from the street. Scaffolding covers a large portion of the library at the corner of York and Wall streets because the exterior of the library is being repointed, Conroy said.
The corbel was added when the James Gamble Rogers-designed library was built in 1929. The library opened in 1931.
Call Ed Stannard at 203-680-9382.