Workers return historic art to stadium
A little bit of history returned to Carnie Smith Stadium at Pittsburg State University today when workmen reinstalled two famous bas-relief sculptures that have been part of the historic structure since 1924. Workers from Mid-Continental Restoration in Fort Scott, Kan., carefully lifted the sculptures into place as part of a major renovation of the west side of the stadium. The sculptures were previously near the top of the structure, but have been relocated nearer to the ground, making them a more prominent feature.
The sculptures, which depict a discus thrower and a football player, were created by the famous artist Waylande Gregory and were a gift of the Class of 1924. They are bookends to the words, "Brandenburg Field," which honors PSU President William Brandenburg. Together, the sculptures and the words are approximately 26 feet long and stand 3 1/2 feet tall and weigh an estimated half-ton or more.
Gregory was born in 1905 in Baxter Springs to William Thomas and Louise de Blumer Gregory. Gregory's mother, a former concert pianist, moved to Pittsburg in 1913 so Waylande and his two brothers could attend the college laboratory schools.
According to a history written by Gene DeGruson, former PSU archivist, Gregory was influenced early on by faculty in the college Art Department. By the time he entered College High School, Gregory had begun to develop a reputation as an art prodigy.
At the age of 17, Gregory received his first paid commission, a model of a double-headed eagle for which the Scottish Rite Masons of Joplin paid him $100.
Encouraged by the Art Department faculty, Gregory left Pittsburg at the age of 17 to enroll at the Kansas City Art Institute. In short order, he was hired by the McCartney Ornamental Plastering Company and given the project of designing and casting architectural ornaments for Strong Hall, the administration building at the University of Kansas, which was completed in 1923.
Gregory sculpted the Brandenburg Field bas-relief in 1924 after completing the work at KU and before entering the Chicago Art Institute in 1924. He charged no commission for the work, perhaps because of his own ties to PSU and also because his sister was a member of the Class of '24.
From the Art Institute, Gregory went on the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and eventually to Bound Brook, N.J., where he established his Mountain Top Studio, in which he worked until his death in 1971.
Gregory's early work was mainly in marble and bronze, although ceramics would eventually become his most favorite medium. His major works included the decorations for the Hotel President in Kansas City and several large pieces for the New York World's Fair Commission. During the Depression, he secured a W.P.A. commission to create four bas-relief panels for the Columbus (Kan.) Post Office. Those are now in the Columbus Community Building. Another W.P.A. work, "Democracy in Action," was installed in the west courtyard of the Municipal Center Building in Washington, D.C.
In his lifetime, Gregory had more than 200 one-man shows in the U.S. and exhibited throughout Europe. He became know both for his artistic ability and for his technical innovation.
The current work on the west side of Carnie Smith Stadium will include the addition of skyboxes and an elevator. The $2.4 million project, financed with private donations, is expected to be completed later this summer.