New garden, sculpture a ‘magnificent gift’

Hindman Garden is dedicated outside Rice Memorial Center

When Ralph and Becky O’Connor first learned of sculptor Geoffrey Dashwood’s larger-than-life bronze barn owl, they knew it belonged at Rice.

“When Becky and I saw the big guy, we said, ‘We’ve got to have that,’” Ralph O’Connor said. “And when we got it, we had to figure out a way to get it over here to Rice [from London], because that’s where it should be.”

The O’Connors, longtime Rice supporters, donated the sculpture to Rice last year. The monumental owl has been placed in a grove of oak trees just east of Rice Memorial Center, where it’s surrounded by a patch of impatiens, a bed of Asian jasmine and a circle of low limestone benches. And this space – a peaceful blend of art and nature – was dedicated Thursday as the Milus E. Hindman Garden.

At the afternoon dedication, President David Leebron said the garden is a “magnificent gift” that reflects the university’s commitment, “even in this digital age, to the importance of space – and as Edgar O. Lovett stressed in his opening address to the university, the importance of beauty as a part of the education experience.”

The garden is named for Milus Hindman, who attended Rice briefly in the 1930s and maintained a strong connection to Rice. Hindman and his longtime partner, Clavy Mason Matthews Jr., left their estates to the university for a campus beautification fund, which created this garden. The fund also enabled the university to purchase the steel-and-bronze James Surls sculpture that is installed near Herring Hall, “Again the Tree, Knot, Flower and Me.”

Russ Pitman ’58, who has worked at Rice and supported the university, served as executor of the Hindman and Matthews estates. Hindman collected bronze sculptures, Pitman said, “so he would be very pleased that this bronze owl is here in the garden.”

Hindman and Matthews walked on the Rice campus almost every weekend, said Pitman, who was a good friend of both men before they died.

“I will always wonder, how many times did they walk by this site on one of those walks?” he said.

About 100 people attended the dedication, and many of them snapped photos of the owl sculpture with their smartphones. The sculpture’s bold, clean form lacks fussy detail, offering instead a smooth surface and simple shape.

“It is a strikingly beautiful addition to what is now an increasingly full roster of art around our campus,” Leebron said. The sculpture and the garden, he said, are a gift not just to Rice, but “to people in Houston and elsewhere who come to our campus because of that sense of serenity and beauty it provides.”

The garden will honor the Rice Legacy Society, a group of donors who have contributed to Rice an amount that matches or exceeds the $4.6 million that William Marsh Rice left to found the Rice Institute. In 2013, a limestone ring featuring each of their names will be installed around the sculpture.


About Alyson Ward

Alyson Ward is a writer in Public Affairs at Rice University.