The Ohio State University Alumni Association

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They’ve got their eyes on you

How many of these faces seen around campus – on buildings, walls and in public art – can you identify? Play the game and learn a little Ohio State history along the way.

On the Oval and elsewhere on campus, there’s such a thing as people watching, and then there’s face watching. Let your eyes wander up walls, interior and exterior, or scan the horizon for one of dozens of public art installations, and you’re likely to encounter a face looking back at you. Human, animal or mythical creature, these faces deliver sparks of delight. (And a little fright. We’re looking at you, Pomerene gargoyles and Orton skulls.) Once you start noticing these architectural and artistic details, you can’t stop seeing them. Put yourself and your friends to the test: Where are these familiar faces on campus?

Mythical creature, Orton Hall exterior

Orton Hall was carefully designed by architects Joseph Yost and Frank Packard, with partnership from Ohio State President Edward Orton, himself a geologist, to be a metaphor for time. The stone used for the building, all of it mined in Ohio, “is arranged in correct stratigraphic order, from Silurian at the base to Carboniferous near the top of the bell tower,” according to an article on the School of Earth Sciences website. The building’s interior and exterior are encrusted with depictions of skulls and animals, extinct and mythical, including this impish leonine face.

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“In Unity There Is Strength” by Odili Donald Odita ’88, Hale Hall

The Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center art collection is recognized as one of the largest collections of Black art in the United States. Odili Donald Odita completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at Ohio State in 1988 and has gone on to exhibit his work around the world. This painting of four figures, their bodies evoking colorful stained glass, conveys a sense of community that permeates Odita’s work. “No matter the discord, I believe through art there is a way to weave the different parts into an existent whole, where metaphorically, the notion of a common humanity can be understood as real,” Odita writes on his website.

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Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar on the Pathways of Courage relief, Ohio Union exterior

This limestone relief depicting writers and civil rights activists Paul Laurence Dunbar and Harriet Beecher Stowe was revealed in March 2010 when the new Ohio Union opened. This and a second relief depicting James Thurber and George Bellows are extensions of the set of six reliefs created by renowned sculptor Marshall Frederick for the original Ohio Union in the early 1950s. The Dunbar and Stowe relief, titled “Pathways of Courage,” honors Ohio’s role in the abolition movement. “I know why the caged bird sings,” Dunbar wrote in his 1899 poem “Sympathy.” Seventy years later, another poet, Maya Angelou, borrowed Dunbar’s line for the title of her first autobiography.

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“Soliloquy” by Eugene Brooks Friley, John H Herrick Drive, east of the Olentangy River

A perennial head-scratcher for people driving to the Ohio State medical campus, “Soliloquy” is a solitary, dominating figure positioned just west of the river on Herrick Drive. The late Friley ’47, ’51 MA, a professor of art at Ohio State, “poured his soul into the mold” of the sculpture, The Lantern reported in 1978 alongside a photo of Friley perched atop his female figure frozen in a dance-like pose. The sculpture originally was installed between Baker Systems Engineering Building and Dreese Laboratory, but Friley had intended it to be placed near Sullivant Hall, where it would complement the vertical columns and stand out from the white stone. The sculpture was moved to Herrick Drive in 1993.

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Carmen Ohio as personified by Billy Ireland, Sullivant Hall

Columbus Dispatch cartoonist Billy Ireland introduced a new character, a stage performer named Carmen Ohio, in his “The Passing Show” strip on Sunday, Sept. 30, 1923. Ohio sports were a recurring theme in his cartoon features. Ireland was “a child of rural Ohio,” wrote Lucy Shelton Caswell, founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, for an exhibition of Ireland’s work. “He remembered this geography in his art, reflected this point of view in his editorial cartoons, and refused to abandon his Ohio roots for the increased money and fame that might have been his had he worked in New York or Chicago.”

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Mythical griffin, Pomerene Hall exterior

Stone reliefs are a trademark of the collegiate gothic style, exemplified by the exterior and much of the interior of Pomerene Hall. The style recalls the gothic style of Western academic, political and religious buildings from the 12th through 16th centuries. When Ohio State undertook a massive renovation of the building completed in 2018, these carved griffins were in good shape and needed only some cleaning by masons, says Ruth Miller, Ohio State architect and senior project manager, who oversaw the renovation, designed by Acock Associates Architects.

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Statue of Hope by Alfred Tibor, The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute

Dr. Arthur G. James chose sculptor Alfred Tibor to create a piece of public art that would “inspire and encourage all who see it,” according to a story on The James’ website. The “Statue of Hope” was unveiled in 1993 on the front lawn of the original James; it has since been moved twice. It is now on display in the lobby of The James while it awaits relocation in front of The James and the new inpatient hospital, projected to be completed in 2026. Tibor was born in Hungary in 1920 and fled to America in 1957. He “believes his life was spared during the horrors of the Holocaust — which for him included six years of captivity in a Siberian prison camp — ‘to do work so people may enjoy it.’”

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Scrap-metal horse sculpture, Animal Science Building

This polarizing steampunk sculpture — students love to take photos with (and sometimes on) it — was donated to the Department of Animal Sciences around 2014 by Fortin Ironworks, the 75-year-old, third-generation Columbus metal fabrication business. Bob Moeller, a professor in the department, facilitated the donation through his longtime friend Bob Fortin, a vice president at the family business. The sculpture had been in the showroom for some time when it occurred to Fortin it would be a great fit for Ohio State, already home to many ironwork railings and other features crafted by the company.

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Depression-era murals painted by Emerson Burkhart, Stillman Hall

Columbus artist Emerson Burkhart lived in a house not far from where Ohio State East Hospital is today. He was a prolific painter of portraits and street scenes; one of his most famous pieces is a portrait of poet Carl Sandburg, a friend. During the Depression era, Burkhart was one of many artists put to work by the federal government. The Works Progress Administration commissioned him in 1939 to create 10 life-size murals in Stillman Hall. Burkhart was paid $1,209 (adjusted for inflation, about $24,000) for 13 months of work on the paintings, which feature prominent figures in American history and are meant to evoke concepts studied in the building, which was and still is used for social work instruction.

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Stained-glass football player, Ohio Stadium rotunda

For some, football is a nearly religious experience. So it’s fitting that the majesty of the Ohio Stadium rotunda includes three massive backlit stained-glass panels depicting the glory of Ohio State football. The panels were installed in 2001, the “crown jewel” of the stadium renovation, and were designed by a graphic design agency in Powell. The panels were made possible by a gift from the Motorists Insurance Group. “The rotunda, recognized throughout the college sports world as the symbol of Ohio State football pride, will now have a permanent memorial to the Buckeye traditions that are the heart and soul of the finest football program in the country,” John J. Bishop, then Motorists’ chair, president and CEO, said in 2001.

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Urn by Erwin Frey, Browning Amphitheater

In 1926, members of the Browning Society (born a literary society in 1882, and later evolved to include theater performances) presented “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the inaugural performance at the outdoor venue for which they’d spent four years advocating and raising money. “Each performance would begin at dusk with the cast of players carrying torches,” onCampus reported in 1985. This oversized urn with impish faces (possibly depicting Pan, the ancient Greek god of the wild) was added to the Browning Amphitheater site in 1936. Frey was a prolific sculptor whose work is still on display at several sites in Ohio and elsewhere.

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Figure depicted in Olmec, a precursor of Mayan writing, Thompson Library, exterior west steps

Embedded in the floors of Thompson Library and etched in the decorations of the elevator doors are nearly 100 examples of forms of written communication from around the world and throughout time. “Writing systems establish the foundation upon which all library collections are built, and it is fitting that these ‘foundation stones’ decorate this building,” reads a brochure — find one on your next visit to the library — that provides a key to all of the foundation stones. The Olmec people lived in what is today southern Mexico. Scholars believe the Olmec civilization lasted from around 1200 to 400 BCE and created the societal and cultural foundations for later cultures, including the Maya and Aztec.

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