A replica of the “Nike of Samothrace” – the class of 1892’s gift for the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library’s grand opening in 1913 – was announced nearly 100 years ago in The Lantern, and while the original replica is no longer standing, its essence has been restored.
The statue, also known as the “Winged Victory of Samothrace” was located in Thompson’s Reference Hall, though it had to be removed in the ’50s because it became a safety hazard. As part of Thompson’s restoration in 2009 the Reference Hall, now the Grand Reading Room, was also restored. A new replica was built to accompany the restoration.
According to Lantern archives, the donation for the approximately $23,000 sculpture was part of the $30 million private fundraising project for the renovation.
For comparison, the original replica cost about $500, and the library about $600,000, according to Lantern archives.
“Winged Victory,” which depicts the goddess of Nike in the form of a winged-woman, originally stood on the bow of a warship to commemorate a naval victory. The marble statue, sculpted in Hellenistic style around the second century B.C., was found by excavators in 1863 and is now kept at the Louvre Museum in Paris, one of the world’s largest museums.
After their 20-year reunion, many members of the class of 1892 said they had an obligation to give back to the university. Knowing that Thompson Library was under construction, they made plans to commission a cast of the “Winged Victory,” and it was installed within six months of the library’s opening, according to Lantern archives.
But by 1953, the statue’s state became alarming to the then-director of libraries, and he campaigned for its removal, said Wesley Boomgaarden, administrator of the libraries’ preservation program. OSU removed the statue in 1959.
“It was taken out and discarded because of deterioration and perceived danger in letting it stand (in the library) 15 feet in the air and maybe a chunk falling on some student’s head,” said William Studer, OSU’s director of libraries from 1977-1999, who lobbied for the return of a restored statue.
New students attending OSU had little or no knowledge of the statue and its history with OSU for almost 50 years.
“I think the people who know this building from 1965 to 2006, most of those people had no knowledge of the statue. It was gone, it wasn’t missed,” Boomgaarden said.
During this period, Studer discovered pictures of the original “Winged Victory” and, once renovation was discussed, advocated for the statue to be included and worked to make it affordable.
“When it was clear that the library was going to be renovated in a major, major way, I lobbied very hard that we put the statue back to try and recall the original Grand Reading Room,” he said.
Thompson Library’s renovation was finished in 2009, and the library was a mix of old and new, adapting to the future while preserving some historic value, such as the original Reference Hall. Larry Allen, OSU libraries communications coordinator, said there was a lot of interest using the building how it was originally intended to be used.
“The east side of the building now is a very traditional library space and (the Grand Reading Room) is probably the most traditional thing you’re going to find,” he said.
This method of renovation included the “Winged Victory.” The spirit of the sculpture has been preserved, but the materials were changed. The statue is made of a resin material, making it lighter and more durable than typical sculptures, Boomgaarden said.
Karol Wells, a 1958 graduate who paid for the new version of the statue, said it elicited awe, power and a sense of immortality.
“It was breathtaking because it was so huge,” she said. “It’s just magnificent.”
While the “Winged Victory” was not the focus of the renovation, it is a focal point of the room.
“Clearly the room would be the room without the statue. It would still be a wonderful, wonderful place, but the statue was just that punctuation that made (the room) very special,” Studer said.