Valley Library mosaics unravel OSU’s past
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 02:02
The Valley Library, sleek and modern as it is, holds a hidden mystery.
Within the confines of the building lies an unseen and unappreciated treasure: Walls of mosaic artwork.
Nelson Sandgren, a professor emeritus who taught art at Oregon State for nearly 40 years, constructed five walls full of mosaic tiles for the Kerr Library, said archivist Karl McCreary.
Dick Adams, the plant manager, asked Sandgren to use “spreading of culture” as the central theme. Sandgren used the tiles to make images that suggest a tree of life, a soul’s pilgrimage through life, a Star of David symbolizing the union between God and humans, Egyptian and Sumerian characters, a bird on a sword representing peace, and the botanical sign for “tree,” according to McCreary and a pamphlet called “Art” at the Kerr Library.
His materials were purchased before he was asked to construct the artwork. Sandgren was limited to using one-inch tiles, and only 1 percent of the tiles were shiny glass, according to the pamphlet.
Before the Kerr Library was built in 1963, the library was located in what is now Kidder Hall. However, there were no open stacks for students to peruse. Library pages would find whatever books students needed instead, said McCreary. It was remodeled in 1999 and given a new name.
“It became the Valley Library when an alum named Gladys Valley donated a lot of money to the project,” McCreary said. “She probably put in a seven-figure donation to get [it] done. Before that, it was the Kerr Library, after President Kerr, who was here in the early 20th century.”
When the Kerr Library was remodeled to the Valley Library in 1999, a brick facade and a couple of floors were added. However, three of the original mosaics that were built in 1963 were covered, McCreary said.
Before Sandgren built the mosaic walls, he painted three of his intended designs as intricate studies.
“One of the studies that Nelson did shows us a glimpse of one of the panels that is hidden,” McCreary said.
The other two show the walls that are still visible today. Those studies remain in the special collections and archives on the third floor of the library — only a few yards away from one of the remaining mosaics. One can view another wall of mosaics on the second floor of the library behind the Student Media Services desk.
The other three mosaic walls remain veiled.
“What I’ve heard is that [the three mosaic walls] still exist,” McCreary said. “They haven’t been torn off the walls, but they’ve been covered up.”
Photographs of the mosaics as they existed before the 1999 remodel can be found in the “Best of OSU Archives” website.
The two visible mosaic walls still provide students with a glimpse into the hidden past of the library.
Jodie Davaz, KBVR-FM news director