A fleeting moment where one seeks tranquility,
A quiet place to reflect on life.
A secret place to escape from reality,
An alcove to remove strife.
The Alcove was an installation designed by Harriet Bart under the grand stairway of Catt Hall. This was my go-to spot when life got overwhelming, when I first arrived on the Iowa State campus. The piece was tucked away from sight; away from the crowds of peers milling around the campus finding their way to their next class, finding their way through life, finding themselves. There was a bench, just big enough for two people, with a set of bronze books perched on the edge, another set precariously laid on the window sill. Three towering bronze columns of stacked books ran up the wall under the grand staircase, seemingly providing the structure’s integrity. The stairs became one with the installation as words engraved on the steps gave inspiration with “Invent,” ” Discover,” and “Remember.”
When I felt beaten down from the outside forces of this busy world, I found shelter and sanctuary at The Alcove. It brought me back to all the times books have been there for me. They shaped me, sheltered me, and supported me when I needed them. I remember going on wild adventures with Tom and Huck; having magical endeavors with Harry, Ron, and Hermione; or digging up mysteries and encouraging growth in that Secret Garden. These stories helped me get through rough times by allowing me to escape into the pages with the characters and away from the reality. After those stories came to mind, the books that helped me learn facts and information that guided me to who I am, who I want to be, and supported my integrity flashed in my mind. These are the books that brought me to this university. These books were for learning, discovery, and knowledge. As I stare at the towering columns of literature, a small quote inscribed on the floor speaks softly, as if my conscience is alerting me to an important lesson. “Pay attention to what they tell you to forget.”
This quote stuck with me since I read it that freshman year, it stayed in the back of my mind. It whispered to me throughout my years at Iowa State. Do not be swayed by others. When others tell me something is not important, stop and question why. Maybe it is or will be important to me. Why will I let others dictate what I will or will not remember? More than likely there is a reason why they tell me to forget something, and it is beneficial to do the opposite. This is my own life and I will take from the outside world what I’d like. It encouraged me to pay attention to my surroundings and really be aware of the intentions of those around me.
But as with life, the outside forces do finally take their toll. My beloved alcove was beaten down and the stairs began to crumble. It was no longer safe to escape beneath the once “safety-net” of The Alcove. The artist took some of the main elements and created a “rebirth” of the art installation, you might say. This installation, located behind Morrill Hall, is now called Epilogue. It includes the three bronze columns of books, a bench and the quote; however, the integrity of the sculpture did not come with. It is a nice installation, but that is all… just nice. Most of the same elements are there, but they do not provoke the deep emotions and memories that stirred in me when sitting at The Alcove. It does not provide me with the internal discussion that once was my meaning of the installation.
It does not invite me to pause and contemplate on my thoughts or my life. It feels disjointed in a way I can not quite put my finger on. A crudely formed bronze owl is perched on the ledge atop the columns of books, a new addition to Epilogue. Owls symbolize wisdom, intelligence, and independence. This detail could have been added to show that with the knowledge we gain through literature, one finds the wisdom to be who they are meant to be and discover the independence to do so. A good sentiment to be sure, however the owl’s placement and form just does not seem connected to the rest of the installation. And the quote that has been a part of my conscience these past years, it no longer small and thought provoking. It is written largely like a banner over the books, more like a statement, than powerful advice discovered in one’s quest through literature. I personally just strongly dislike the new arrangement of once powerful elements.
As I walk past this new installation, the word “Remember” engraved on the bench is the only part that speaks to me. I will remember the joy the stories brought to me in my youth. I will remember the knowledge the texts provided and the instructors that encouraged me to discover my interests and passions. I will remember the clarity and tranquility I received when pondering my life in that peaceful place. I will remember The Alcove fondly.
By Emily Van Nostrand