A Sculpture's Permanent Home

Berthold Schmutzhart donated "Sitting Woman with Bird," a sculpture created by late GW aluma Slaithong Chengtrakul Schmutzhart.
December 18, 2011

 Piece by GW alumna is newly installed on Foggy Bottom Campus.

In a quiet corner of GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus, tucked behind the G Street Townhouses in a newly renovated park with sustainable features, sits a woman with a bird on her knee. She’s still and silent, and the bird shows no intention of flying away. The woman and bird are sculpted out of steel that has weathered to a soft brown color. “Sitting Woman with Bird” was created by the late Slaithong Chengtrakul Schmutzhart, M.F.A. ’83, and donated to GW by her former spouse Berthold Schmutzhart.

Though Mr. Schmutzhart donated the piece in 2009, it took several years to find the perfect location to display the 70-inch-high piece, said Lenore Miller, M.F.A. ’72, director of university art galleries and chief curator. Ms. Miller worked with Michael Burns, senior development manager for campus capital projects, to find a location that would highlight the sculpture appropriately. The chosen site has native and adapted plant species, as well as a “zero-basin” rainwater fountain, which is flat to the ground and uses collected and recirculated rainwater.

“There’s a still-life quality to the space,” Mr. Burns said. “The statue has a meditative and reflective quality that fits in well.”

Ms. Schmutzhart originally created “Sitting Woman with Bird” in 1982 as part of her M.F.A. work while a student at GW. She became a faculty member on the Mount Vernon Campus when it was still Mount Vernon College, teaching studio art, sculpture, ceramics, three-dimensional design and printmaking between 1978 and 1991.

After Ms. Schmutzhart died in 2006, Mr. Schmutzhart—himself a sculptor—began the process of finding permanent homes for her pieces that had not been sold. “Sitting Woman with Bird” had spent many years in the front yard of a townhouse on Capitol Hill, but Mr. Schmutzhart decided he wanted GW to be its permanent home, he said.

“It was very simple. Sumsri [Ms. Schmutzhart’s nickname] got her master’s degree at GW. This piece was part of her thesis work. And I think it’s beautiful and pretty,” he said. “Sumsri always made a lot of birds in her sculptures. It was a great joy seeing it in a good home.”

Square 80, the renovated space on G Street between 21st and 22nd streets that includes pervious pavements and biofiltration planters to capture water runoff, is an attractive location for the sculpture, Mr. Burns said. In addition to the sustainable features and the rainwater fountain, the site also includes an activity field and tables and chairs for seating.

“We thought that since the fountain would be so engaging, the spot right next to it would be the perfect place for the sculpture, which looks into the seating area. The piece is weathered and has a sense of being there.”

The sculpture’s weathered appearance comes from its materials. It is crafted of Cor-Ten steel, which is made of an alloy that naturally develops a rusty hue after time in the elements without actually rusting.

“Sitting Woman with Bird” invites visitors to sit, as well, and stay a while.

“It’s a very contemplative figure,” Ms. Miller said. “I knew the artist personally, and I felt a bit sad when they were installing it, but then I had this very sudden feeling that she’d be happy to see it there.”

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