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Public Art on South Campus: University of Massachusetts Lowell

Durgin Hall foyer, Bas Reliefs, Ivan Meštrović, 1960's

mestrovic relief v.2 kneeling singers

Meštrović relief of seated lute players, Durgin Hall. Photo by Michael Page.


The acquisition of these reliefs in the 1970s after Meštrović‘s death reveals a tale of determination by Daniel O’Leary, president of Lowell State College (as South Campus was then known). Durgin Hall, the building you are now in, was the new home of the music program; O’Leary learned that Meštrović‘s widow still had a few works by the master and that they depicted musical subjects. He flew out to South Bend, Indiana, to convince Mrs. Meštrović to sell him two. The first to arrive was “Singing Girls” but the second, “Dancers” got smashed into seven pieces during shipment. O’Leary had the relief repaired by a conservator at the Fogg Museum of Harvard University. Mrs. Meštrović then agreed to sell a third relief to O’Leary, “Boy With Bagpipe” and also donated a fourth, “Girls Playing Harps.” The students themselves became vested in the reliefs and purchased a fifth, “David” as a class gift. The collection was rounded out with a sixth relief, “Dancers Playing Cymbals and Drums.”


standing male figure releie scu;lptureWithout doubt these Meštrović reliefs rank amongst the most important works of art at the university. Meštrović earned an international reputation in the early twentieth century; the French sculptor August Rodin, with whom he trained, claimed that Meštrović was “the greatest phenomenon among the sculptors.” The reliefs here all depict some aspect of music: young people playing harps, bagpipes, singing, and dancing. They are called “bas-reliefs” because the carving on the stone panels is very shallow—in some cases the figures only extend half an inch from the background. Successful bas-relief carving is very difficult for this reason. And yet Meštrović is able to convey an extraordinary sense of movement in all the figures. Notice the repetition of lines in “Girls Playing Harps” or limbs in “Dancers” for example. 




mestrovic relief of standing figure very dark

Meštrović relief of standing musician, Durgin Hall. Photo by Michael Page

Additional Sources and Related Links:
Ann Schecter, “ULowell library home to rare bas reliefs” Lowell Sun, Dec. 16, 1978.