Ohio Union 1952

Relief sculptures adorn the front of the 1951-2006 Ohio Union in this 1950s postcard image.

When the second Ohio Union was built at 1739 N High in 1947-51, its design was very much of its period. Clean, streamlined and modern with a minimum of decoration. The single exception to this was the building's High ST face where space was allotted for six sculptural panels to tell a story about the space.

Staff from the Ohio Historical Society Museum and the Ohio State University History Department deliberated and chose the subjects and themes to be portrayed in the sculptures. The sculptures would situate young Buckeyes in the sweep of 150 years of state history.

Marshall Fredericks, a busy Michigan-based sculptor who specialized in public sculptures, was chosen for the task. Trained at the Cleveland School of Art in the 1920s, Fredericks created streamlined, stylized, Art Deco informed heroic figures in stone and bronze expressing civic virtues.

Fredericks greated clay prototypes of the scultures in his studio and made plaster casts which were shipped to Columbus. Three talented stonecarvers from Vermont used pneumatic hammers and chisels to recreate Fredericks' creations in 8' tall limestone blocks already placed in the facade of the building. The work began in late July 1952 and was finished by November.

The 6 sculptures Fredericks created tell a very 1950s story of Ohio history designed to inspire the white, male, upper-middle class viewer of the period: For milennia, fierce and exotic natives and wild animals roamed the wilderness. Blessed by God, brave pioneers arrived, displaced the inhabitants, tamed the land, and pressed it into productivity. Under the auspices of a just and democratic government, providing free public education, women tended the babies while men built thriving agriculture and industry and wrought wonders. Heavy industry--represented by steel-making--gets a panel all of its own. Cameos are made by Ohio notables Johnny Appleseed, Rutherford B Hayes, William McGuffey, and the Wright Brothers' flyer.

Ohio Union relief sculptures

Relief sculptures on the south wall of the Ohio Union

When the new Ohio Union was built in the 2000s, it was determined that connections with the demolished 1951 Ohio Union, beloved by generations, would be made by incorporating items and materials from the old student union. Fireplace mantels were made from the sycamores that formerly grew on the south side of the building. A display of doors from all of the student unions appears in a lounge on the 3rd floor. And the sculptures from the front of the old Ohio Union were retained but moved to a less prominent place on the south wall of the building.

To bring the reliefs into the 21st century, two additional relief sculptures were added to speak to groups, history, and themes not included in the original series. The first featured women, Blacks, and the civil rights struggle as depicted by abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, and symbols of the Underground Railroad.The second celebrated the arts and humanities with depictions of Ohio-born artists and Ohio State alumni George Bellows and James Thurber.

Ohio State-educated sculptor Linda Jenny Langhorst created the new sculptures.

2010 relief sculptures

New relief sculptures for the 2010 Ohio Union