Yale will remove from Sterling Memorial Library a stone carving that depicts a Puritan holding a musket to the head of a Native American, University officials announced Tuesday.
The announcement comes in the wake of widespread criticism of Yale for initially covering the musket with removable stonework. The concealment of the musket was first reported by the Yale Alumni Magazine on Aug. 9.
Rather than alter the image, the University now plans to move the stonework — which is located near the entrance to the recently renovated Center for Teaching and Learning — to an as-yet-undecided location where it will be available for study and viewing.
University Library Susan Gibbons and the University’s Committee on Arts in Public Spaces, which was charged last year with exploring ways to represent Yale’s diversity through artwork, began discussing the stonework in the spring of 2016.
The decision to cover the musket was made by employees in Yale’s facilities division who were involved in the renovation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor.
“They were told to figure out how to remove it, and they thought it was going to be too difficult to remove,” O’Connor said. “So they thought, ‘We know it’s controversial, we’ll figure it out, we’re can-do people, and we will cover it.’”
O’Connor declined to name the Yale officials involved in that decision. But she said the employees were unaware of the University’s principles for renaming, which were outlined in a report released last December.
The report stipulates that the University should contextualize renaming decisions to avoid “erasing history.” The covering of the musket contradicted that principle, Yale officials say.
In a statement on Tuesday, University President Peter Salovey said Yale should not “make alterations to works of art on our campus.”
“Such alteration represents an erasure of history, which is entirely inappropriate at a university,” Salovey said. “We are obligated to allow students and others to view such images, even when they are offensive, and to study and learn from them.”
The stonework was created during the construction of the library in 1929.
Correction, Aug. 22: A previous version of this story stated that University Librarian Susan Gibbons and the Committee on Art in Public Spaces decided to cover the musket with a layer of stone, as reported in the Yale Alumni Magazine. In fact, the decision to cover the musket was made by mid-level facilities officials. Additionally, the previous version stated that the Committee on Art in Public Spaces was established in 2016. In fact, that was when University President Peter Salovey charged the pre-existing committee with examining diversity in Yale artwork.