The Dooley Statue

To the best of my recollection, this is how the the statue of Dooley came to Emory.

The initial idea belonged to Lance Henry, an economics and music major who graduated from Emory College in 2007. He had an interest in Emory history and once proposed resurrecting the name of the first Emory student publication – The Collard Leaf, from before the Civil War – to create an alternative to the Emory Wheel and the Emory Phoenix. When he approached me about getting the new publication started, we got so far as designing a banner and recruiting writers, but waning interest and lack of funds meant that the Collard Leaf never sprouted.

Determined, I suppose, to leave his mark at Emory somehow, Lance next proposed erecting a statue of Dooley. His vision was to mount it on top of the old Dobbs University Center (replaced by the current student center) – like the statue atop the U.S. Capitol – with Dooley facing east, toward his home in Oxford. This seemed self-defeating to me – how would anyone see Dooley a hundred feet above them on top of a fairly flat dome? – but I agreed to help him see whether the notion of a Dooley statue somewhere on campus could get traction. Lance took the proposal to the Student Government Association, which offered encouragement but no funding.

To gauge campus interest, we created a survey to see which Emory students had any knowledge of Dooley and whether attitudes toward Dooley were mostly positive or negative. Unsurprisingly, far more undergraduates knew about Dooley than graduate or professional students, and while the undergraduates varied, a majority leaned positive.

After discussing the proposal with the Public Art Committee, and with the help of Linda Armstrong, Kerry Moore, and other members of the Visual Arts Department, the Traditions and History Committee published a national request for proposals in Art Papers and Sculpture magazine, asking sculptors for credentials and photographs of representative work. We received nineteen responses, and after reviewing all of the materials, a selection committee invited four artists to present models of their proposed statue of Dooley. The artists came from Maryland, Atlanta, Washington State, and Chicago; one was an alumna.

In early 2007 we brought the artists to the Visual Arts Studio to meet with the selection committee, who included members of the Visual Arts Department, the Public Art Committee, and the Traditions and History Committee. Of the four presentations, one clearly stood out – the model presented by Matthew Gray Palmer, of Friday Harbor, Washington. Among his many sample photos, we saw sculptures of birds and animals that were constructed of thin metal plates curved, cut, and attached in a way that suggested shape but also latent and kinetic energy. His model for Dooley used the same technique. The accurate representation of a life-size skeleton appeared to be hurrying forward and leaving in its wake an enlivening rush of wind and energy – just what one would expect from the “spirit” of a place. Whimsically, Matthew shows Dooley casting aside his skeleton costume to reveal that underneath, he is really — a skeleton! A mystery within an enigma.

The model presented by Matthew Gray Palmer.

Installation of the sculpture required approval of a series of committees as well as the board of trustees. We presented the model and the site proposal to the full Public Art Committee and to the Real Estate, Buildings, and Grounds (REBG) Committee of the board. The minutes of the May 23, 2007, meeting of the REBG Committee state:

Dr. Gary Hauk joined the meeting with a model of the Dooley statue designed by Matthew Gray Palmer. This design is the culmination of student surveys and a national sculptor search. The design has received affirmations by the Public Art Committee, the Art History Department, and the Visual Arts Program. The statue will be constructed in either bronze or steel and will be placed between the Anthropology Building and the roundabout on Asbury Circle. The Emory Alumni Association will be asked to support fundraising for the project, estimated at $85,000.

The committee approved the statue, as did the board at its meeting the following month.

We commissioned Matthew to complete the sculpture, which took about eight months. In addition to funds for the sculpture, we had to find money for the site preparation. Much of the funding came from donors, with the balance coming from a university landscape fund. The campus community gathered for the dedication of the sculpture in September 2008.

Campus reaction was mixed. One longtime faculty member, at Emory for more than three decades, told me that it was the best addition to the campus in years. Some admired the statue’s sense of grace and dash. Others, however, thought the statue was (like Dooley himself, in their view) “ghoulish” or disturbingly dark.

Almost immediately the statue became a mannequin to be adorned with costumes appropriate to the season, whether hearts for Valentine’s Day, a green headband for St. Patrick’s Day, beads for Mardi Gras, or whatever fit the theme of Dooley’s Week in a given year. His outstretched top hat often contained coins dropped in by passersby presumably inviting good luck.

One online commentator (at https://www.roadsideamerica.com/blog/lord-dooley-mascot-statue-no-boner/ ) remarked, “Immortal public art often takes time to be accepted. The same will likely be true for Lord Dooley. . . . Dooley is proof that college is still a place where ideas can flow and shape freely, even if the end result is a scary skeleton that reminds people that they will die. And when the cultural pendulum eventually swings and campuses again resemble a 1970s Grateful Dead concert, Emory students will say that they have the most freakin’ awesome mascot ever. And they will be right.”

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