Skirted sculpture inspires gender issue discussion

Courtney Lewis

The copper mesh skirt wrapped around the tin man statue by the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building is more than decorative.

It is part of a temporary project to increase discussion about gender issues and public art.

Kristine Miller, an assistant professor in the department of landscape architecture, organized the project. She received permission from Andrew Leicester, the statue’s artist and a University alumnus, to dress the statue for her survey video project. Once the skirt is removed, Miller will post reactions online through the department’s Web site.

Beth Newmaster, a freshman Institute of Technology student who walks by the statue everyday, said she typically noticed the statue even before it wore the skirt.

But the skirt piqued her attention and made her think about its significance, she said.

“I remember thinking it was funny at first,” Newmaster said.

Newmaster said she never thought the statue had a gender until she saw the skirt. But in her mostly male information technology classes, she said the gender issues it raises draw attention to the lack of women in the information tecnology field.

“It’s almost a message out there that there are women in this field too,” Newmaster said. “They are being represented by this.”

Shelly Willis, an art administrator at Weisman Art Museum, worked with Leicester for two years to put up the statue.

Willis received a call from Miller in early September requesting permission to dress the statue in a skirt. She said Miller’s interest in seeing the dynamics of art in a public space prompted the project.

Willis said it is rare for an artist to allow someone to alter their piece, and Leicester’s permission for the project is “precedent-setting.”

Miller said in a written statement she is not promoting any viewpoints, but anticipates discussion from others.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man,” Leicester said his original intent for the figure was not specifically gendered. He said he can see how the robust robotic form, symbolizing engineering, might give a masculine impression.

Last February, Leicester added a large heart to the statue for Valentine’s Day. He said the tin man from “The Wizard of Oz” inspired the addition and made it more masculine for him.

Miller’s skirt project will prove successful to Leicester by creating dialogue about the piece, he said.

“By interacting with the work in its guises, people are able to remember it,” Leicester said. “Then it exceeds its functioning as just a landmark.”

If people come to him in the future asking to dress the stature, Leicester said it would be fine with him – as long as it doesn’t damage the stainless steel.

“I thought (the skirt) made the legs look very sexy,” he said.


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