A Public Art Tour of The Claremont Colleges

By Ella Murdock Gardner ’22

At the turn of the 20th century, Claremont was a hub of the nascent Arts and Crafts movement, leading to the city’s status as a mecca for artists experimenting in mosaic, California plein air, Mexican modernism, and other forms that have come to define the town’s aesthetic. Over a century later, Claremont and its colleges remain an artistic destination, with innovative, conceptual, traditional, and protest art around nearly every corner. A stroll through the 5Cs will yield numerous viewing opportunities; below is a small but selective sampling of some of the schools’ best.

Scripps College

A garden walkway leading to a mural featuring a woman's face.

Featuring a small, interdenominational chapel, purple wisteria drooping over walkways, and a historical mural on the southern wall, the Margret Fowler Memorial Garden is not only one of the most beautiful places on the Scripps College campus, it is “one of Southern California’s least-celebrated but best-loved hideaways,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The crowning jewel of this medieval-style cloister garden is The Flower Vendors, a 100-foot long, 1946 mural by celebrated Mexican artist Alfredo Ramos Martinez. Its highly stylized figures reflect Ramos Martinez’s interest in Pre-Columbian art, and The Flower Vendors remains a lasting monument to the importance of the Mexican mural movement and its impact on art in Southern California.

A softly carved stone statue of a sitting woman cradles the stone figure of a child

Along the western wall of Margret Fowler Garden is Eternal Primitive, the softly rounded stone statue of a mother and child by acclaimed sculptor Albert Stewart. In 1939, founder of the Scripps art department Millard Sheets brought Stewart to Claremont to teach humanities and sculpture. As a teacher, Stewart insisted on anatomical correction and simplification of form. When designing Eternal Primitive, he chose smoother and more abstracted forms to contrast with the ceramic bas relief of the Virgin and Child outside the entrance to the oratory in the Margret Fowler Garden. Scripps’ collection of Stewart’s work also includes Man and Nature, which stands in front of the Edwards Humanities Building, and a bronze fawn that drinks from the fountain in Stewart Court, west of the Malott Commons.

Harvey Mudd College (HMC)

A fountain topped with a statue of a woman.

Nestled in Hixon Court is the Venus statue and fountain, brought to campus from Italy by HMC’s original landscaper, Thomas Church. Designed by 16th-century artist Giovanni Bologna, the fountain is a symbol of the engineering and science college’s commitment to a foundation in the humanities and social sciences.

Pitzer College

A road sign with backwards blue font printed on.

What at first glance may appear like a basic road sign—with blue type face popping out of a stark white background—is actually Native Hosts, an installation by Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds. Heap of Birds’ art aims to de-familiarize the familiar: By printing “California” backwards on the top of the sign and displaying the names of a variety of traditional villages and sacred sites of the Tongva—indigenous people with ancestral homelands in the Los Angeles area—the twenty installations of Native Hosts around Pitzer’s campus invite viewers to reflect on the relationships between institutions like The Claremont Colleges, the native peoples, and the California environment.

Claremont McKenna College (CMC)

Street lamps and benches arranged in a circle.

Urban Light, the installation of streetlamps outside of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has become part and parcel of the urban landscape of Los Angeles’ Museum Row. But as of 2016, Claremontians need only travel to CMC’s Roberts Pavilion to experience how artist Chris Burden explores the connection between humans and urban spaces. Meet in the Middle consists of eight street lamps and 24 ornate benches arranged in a circle, providing a space for visitors to interact with the art and each other. Burden choose to use vintage streetlamps from the 1920s in both Urban Light and Meet in the Middle to comment on modernity, saying that a sophisticated society should be “safe after dark and beautiful to behold.”

Pomona College

An art exhibition featuring a reflective pool and glowing red light.

Students, faculty, and visitors  to The Claremont Colleges can escape the chaos of everyday life by stepping into the open air pavilion of Dividing the Light, an interactive exhibition by world-renowned light-and-space artist James Turrell PO ’65, CGU ’73. Hailed as “one of the best works of public art in recent memory” by the Los Angeles Times, Dividing the Light invites visitors to observe the sky through a rectangular opening in the canopy ceiling. At sunrise and sunset, lighting programs bathe the canopy in different colored lights, altering the viewer’s perception of the sky itself through the window in the ceiling and the reflection in the shallow pool beneath. With no specific object or image to focus on, the viewer’s experience is the central tenant of this “skyspace,” as the contrasts between the colored lights and the sky reveal how colors are created in the mind.