Mounted outside the entrance of Sage Hall, one floor up, stands a statue of an anonymous woodsman that can claim a little corner of the environment school’s soul. Students have been costuming this man of sandstone — dubbed “Sage Boy”— since the early 1970s. Like any icon, he’s thrown roots into the culture. A 2005 graduation program exalted him in similes comprehensible only to those pursuing an arboreal course of study (“He sounds/as if he had/smallish trees up his nose”). Environment students named their Craigslist-type Web site after him: Sageboy.net. Stranger yet, they insist on his animateness, in the hushed tones of bunkmates discussing old camp lore. “Sageboy sure loves to dress himself up,” Casey Pickett FES ’11 SOM ’11, an environmental management master’s candidate, says. “Boy, is he clever.”
Sage Boy is clever. He’s up on his cultural and current events; he’s timely, and boy does this straight-backed woodsman lean to the left. Last year, he mocked Sarah Palin with a pig nose and a swab of lipstick. He’s dangled a bike from his abdomen; another year, he made a statement about carbon emissions by affixing the front half of a Volkswagen Beetle to his slender frame. All were received without incident. But one morning, in the mid-’90s, Sage Boy appeared in a wig and bathing suit, with the letters GIR plastered over the first three letters of the second word of SAGE HALL. Claiming feminism to this act of feminization, the costumers said they had dressed up Sage Boy to assert that the school’s statue could reflect the presence of the environment school’s women. But worried that the display would be interpreted as disrespectful, the Assistant Dean of Student Affairs ordered Sage Boy disrobed.
Because underneath it all, Sage Boy is not Santa Claus, or even Yasser Arafat — despite stints dressed up as each — but an old-school forester. The sculpture’s official title, “The Woodsman” — emphasize woods, emphasize man — reveals precisely what is no longer true of a school that has become 60 percent female and predominantly focused on environmental studies. With one hand on an ax, his right leg flanking a tree stump, sleeves rolled and pecs popping out of his lumberjack shirt, Sage Boy looks decidedly male and decidedly woodsy. He may be an icon forever, but he no longer represents the students inside the building he adorns.
Re-enter SAGE GIRL, now dubbed Kroon Girl. On last year’s completion of the ultra-green Kroon Hall, the environment school’s Web site boasted of creating a structure that acts as “a symbol of the school’s values in built form.” And with the new building, students started calling for a new statue, one at ground level, not mounted like Sage Boy. Last winter, a group of environment school students won a $4,000 grant from the Class of 1980 Fund to start investigating “a feminine counterpart to Sage Boy and a modern representation of the environmental movement.” This year, eight students formed an independent study group called “Public Art and the Environment,” headed by Associate Dean of Student Affairs Gordon Geballe, to tackle the specific question of Kroon Girl.
While administrative approval is pending, and the statue’s price tag is sure to be well above $4000, the discussions have begun. Opening the discourse to the community, the student-led independent study group has hosted a design charette (with clay!) and posted an online suggestion box on Sageboy.net. If Sage Boy was born from a quick 1925 commission by artist John Gregory, Kroon Girl’s origins — truly reflective of her conception century — involve a lot more talk-back. And consensus is tricky.
First there is the problem of form. Gregory’s forester lacks a modern prototype. What should Kroon Girl hold, a MacBook slowly loading ArcView GIS? Because the route of the literalist is tricky, Kroon Girl may move into symbolic ground. Paul Draghi, a professor with a specialty in mythic and folkloric representations of nature, has fielded questions from the group about the “goddess concept,” what he calls “a great opportunity to look to classical mythology.” Others think she should shuck off the female form altogether and be wholly representative — a curved space. Could she interact with her environment by collecting rainwater? Or should she — with the danger of looking like a Chia pet — support plant life? And then there’s the question of materials. No one gave a rip where Sage Boy’s sandstone frame was quarried; but the stuff of Kroon Girl had better be local, sustainable, or better yet, recycled.
As with any community process, there will be some oddballs in the dropbox — from the head-scratcher amalgam, “burlesque wig Gertrude Bell Emma Thompson safari-type woman” to the ever-mysterious “Butter Sculpture.” One suggestion, from someone truly adept at thinking outside the box, reads: “Kroon Girl should be a girl cat.” (The suggestor conceded the pesky problem of allergies by proposing “no-go cat zones” in Kroon and even offered to take the kitty home for Christmas.)
By any name, the making of a symbol, a statue, a piece of public art, walks a long 21st-century road. There remains many an administrative hoop for Kroon Girl to jump through, so we can rest easy knowing that Sage Boy’s counterpart won’t be a sculpted pat of fatty acids. As the independent study learned from the conception team of Yale’s most recent sculpture addition, the Peabody Tyrannosaurus had a seven-year gestation period. And whatever traditions we can bet will be tacked on to this new arrival may take their time to settle into place; Sage Boy stood four decades unadorned.
In the meantime, not just the students are clamoring for Sage Boy’s paramour. Last February, the statue himself held up a Valentine that read, I ♥ KROON GIRL. Let’s hope love waits.