On a chilly morning in April, 1971, a crowd gathered outside Cleo Rogers Memorial Library to watch a sight that had never been seen before. School children, library employees, members of the public, and J. Irwin Miller and his wife Xenia watched the uncrating and installation of a 4-and-a-half-ton bronze sculpture that was to serve as an anchor for the plaza that was critical to the function of the library and its connection to First Christian Church across 5th Street. Mr. and Mrs. Miller donated the sculpture to the library on the recommendation of the library’s architect, I.M. Pei.
Pei felt the plaza would serve as the center of culture for the city. Playing off of the plaza in front of the church, this space resembles the open air plazas in Europe. Concerts, lunch breaks, large gatherings and more would bring the city together in a way that it did not have previously. A sculpture was always part of the plan for Pei. With its expansive and open nature, the plaza would need something to serve as a focal point. This was not meant to take away from the beauty of the building, but rather to enhance it.
The “Large Arch” by British sculptor, Henry Moore, had a long journey from its point of fabrication in Germany. It moved across the Atlantic Ocean and eventually ended up floating on a barge down the Ohio River to its disembarkment in Louisville, Kentucky. From there it was trucked up I-65 to its final destination at the corner of 5th and Lafayette streets.
Starting with the library, Pei and Moore would go on to collaborate on many other projects. The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY features Reclining Figure No. 3 out front. In Dallas, Moore’s Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae can be seen within the City Center Park Plaza and in Singapore, Reclining Figure 1938 sits in front of the OCBC Centre. Moore’s Mirror Knife Edge graces the entrance to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It seems that Pei felt the contrast between the sharp lines of his buildings and Moore’s graceful curves was important to the overall feel of his buildings.
The result of this partnership is that Columbus and its residents by extension are now connected with all of these locations. From England to Germany, Singapore to Dallas, New York to Washington D.C. there is a thread of familiarity that can be felt.
As the 50th anniversary of the installation and dedication of Large Arch is celebrated, the role it has played in the history and culture of the city should also be celebrated. It is easily the most recognizable piece of public art and as such serves as one of the signature images of the city. When a graphic representing the city is created, it most likely will have this iconic image on it. It helps anchor, move, and connect not only the plaza, but more importantly all of those who see it. The residents, the visitors, and the organizations all are better for having Large Arch watching over the Library plaza.