On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!
These lines from Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” came immediately to mind when we were looking at an entire school of sculpted fish flying around a fountain statue. The fish are part of “Sunday Morning In Deep Waters” on U-M’s central campus.
The fish surround a very large, very busy statue depicting the sea god Triton frolicking with his sons in the sea. The kids are happily crawling all over him like children on their parents’ bed on a weekend morning. The statue was inspired by sculptor Carl Milles’s own childhood.
The contrasting and conflicting ambience that is created by the placement of the frenetic Triton and his sons in the middle of Ingalls Mall, a very large and open quiet space, is formidable. A pilgrimage to Central Campus is required to experience and appreciate the statue. You can walk around the fountain or sit on nearby benches to study it from every angle. Though it’s not officially condoned, generations of toddlers (and the occasional dog) have been known to wade in the fountain to get a closer look.
Even if you stay dry, it’s worth visiting at different times of day as the play of light and shadow creates changing images. The patina on different parts of the statue is wonderfully rich and colorful when seen in the right light.
A campus tradition holds that a beginning freshman must jump into the fountain and walk toward the Diag to pursue education. Upon graduation, the tradition mandates another dip in the pool, and a walk toward Rackham and a graduate education.
On the day after graduation this year, we watched four young men solemnly line up and walk through the fountain, then shake hands. Next a female graduate, gowned and wearing a mortarboard, kicked off her sandals and waded through.
According to the website public-art.umich.edu, the university’s Public Art Program “seeks to enrich the intellectual and visual environments of the University and community by placing works of art in strategic locations …” The site includes a comprehensive guide to the many pieces of public sculpture located on the Central, North, South, and Medical campuses.
One of the great advantages of living in a robust college town is that many of the treasures a great university brings are available not just to students and faculty, but the entire population. There is plenty of public sculpture to be seen here–one just needs to go outside to see it.