As I sat registering for my last semester of classes at Iowa State, a slight fear began to surface inside of me. Am I ready to graduate and move on? Have I learned all I need to find a successful job? In order to get a hold of my fear I began reflecting on my time at Iowa State, what I had learned and who had helped me get here. The more I thought the more I felt my experience could be summed up visually by Shoulders of Giants, the sculpture that greets me daily in the library.
Shoulders of Giants, by Nina Ward, visually symbolizes the most important purpose of Iowa State University. Two Percheron horses are sculpted side by side in harness. One horse stands slightly larger than the other. This horse’s name is Doc, and he is helping the smaller horse, Charlie. With a tilted head, Doc is showing Charlie how to walk in harness, but also protecting him by shielding his face. The relationship between the two draft horses symbolizes the mentor relationship between faculty and students at the University.
As I contemplated the sculpture further, I realized the title also brings to mind the idea of mentoring and being helped through the growing process. The more I thought about what it means to grow as a college student the majority of memories were unpleasant. Growing intellectually and learning how to be a better person are not always easy lessons to get through. Ward is sure to address these difficult experiences, as well. Both horses are depicted in a rough, unfinished manner that communicates the fact that all people are still learning and striving to polish themselves into better individuals. I can visually sense the malleability of the clay material Ward used to create this sculpture. The handmade quality of this sculpture adds to the message that the University helps shape its students into successful individuals.
In addition to the handmade quality, the material is used to represent difficult terrain. The color, the lifelike wet sheen, and the almost sloppy aesthetic visually create what I would deem a challenging landscape. Does this symbolize the difficult terrain that settlers faced when first plowing the Iowa Prairie or could it be a symbol for the struggles students must face to be successful?
I tend to believe Ward was striving for both interpretations. The horses seem to be slowly rising from the sludge as a representation of individual growth. However, she emphasizes the fact that no student can do it alone. The guidance provided by the faculty is essential to the student’s success.
-by Libby Grant
-by Libby Grant