Scripps Removes Controversial Sculpture, Students Disappointed in College’s Lack of Fully Addressing Its Implications


Anne Friedman ’25
Staff Writer

On April 4, Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery staff removed the Georg Kolbe sculpture, titled “Young Woman,” from the Tiernan Field House and placed it into storage. In addition to the statue’s removal, the college is currently in the process of forming a committee to write a policy that describes when and what is appropriate to remove from campus and the gallery’s collection.

Lily Dunkin ’24 first called for the sculpture’s removal Feb. 10, 2022 in an article published through The Student Life. She highlighted the problematic history of the artist and the problematic optics of the sculpture.

Through the article, Dunkin connected with Professor Jasmine Baetz, Lincoln Visiting Professor in Ceramics, who was teaching a ceramics course called Building Historical Memory. After asking Dunkin to speak to her class, Baetz began collaborating on the call to remove the sculpture.

“I began to really start to read the campus like a script or like a framework that was giving us subtle ways of knowing who is supposed to be there, understanding belonging, understanding our own sort of place and relation to these institutions,” Baetz explained. This interest in the role of art on campuses influenced her involvement with the project.

Prior to the statue’s placement in Tiernan, it was situated in the reflection pond in front of the Frankel and Routt residence halls. It was eventually chosen for installation in Tiernan because it is made out of zinc – a material that would be able to withstand both indoor and outdoor situations.

Kirk Delman, Interim Director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, first heard about the controversy surrounding the statue when Dunkin’s article was released. While he acknowledges that the path Dunkin took to raise awareness of the issue is not new, he also saw it as unnecessary. “It was a bit of a surprise because we hadn’t talked to Lily,” he said. “In hindsight, I had hoped that they would have come to the gallery providing the reasons the sculpture be removed and requesting for it to be removed.”

For Dunkin and other students, the sculpture does not represent who inhabits Scripps’ campus. Kolbe was on Hitler’s list of Divinely Gifted artists and created art for the Berlin Olympics as well as war memorials. The sculpture was made for the Berlin Olympics and represents an idealized petite, white Aryan woman. “What does it mean when we walk into a space and the only artwork in the entire space is an idealized white Aryan Nazi artist?” Dunkin asked.

For Ella Lehavi ’24, a Jewish art major, the sculpture carries an implication of what Scripps’ students should look like. “[The sculpture] sends a message about what expectations are,” Lehavi said “This is what a Scripps student should look like. It should be short, skinny, fit, but it should also be Aryan.”

The artist’s ties to the Third Reich and the body image ideal that the sculpture represents were emphasized in a letter sent to then-President Suzanne Keen and the administration. The letter received 265 signatures from current students, alums, parents, faculty members, and staff members. Following President Keen’s resignation, communication was redirected to President Amy Marcus-Newhall who responded on March 23.

“The importance of this issue demands a rigorous, deliberative, and inclusive process,” President Marcus-Newhall stated in her email. “Our initial review regarding Georg Kolbe indicates that there is conflicting historical evidence and before we take any action we need to do a thorough analysis. We are initiating this investigative process immediately.”

While President Marcus-Newhall’s reference to conflicting historical evidence is vague, it is possible she spoke to the speculation about whether Kolbe refused a request from Hitler to create a bust of Hitler. “It’s really interesting that people who don’t want to consider the student demands keep referring to an idea that I can only find in the English language Wikipedia article about Georg Kolbe in which they say that Kolbe reportedly refused to do a bust of Hitler,” Baetz said. “And if you follow that Wikipedia citation, it takes you to another citation that doesn’t actually tell you where that was sourced.”

Art historian Wolfgang Brauneis spoke about Kolbe’s work and reputation in a lecture the day after Kolbe’s sculpture was removed from Tiernan. As a part of the lecture, he explained that Kolbe requested to create a bust of Hitler, although the request was not granted. Baetz expanded on this, describing how his reputation was cleansed in the aftermath.

“He’s a beloved German artist whose reputation was laundered,” Baetz said. “He’s interpreted almost against the other prized National Socialist sculptors who are on [Hitler’s] Divinely Gifted list. We’re working against the ways his reputation was rehabilitated for social and economic reasons.”

Lehavi sees this interest to cleanse Kolbe’s reputation as a way to ignore the harmful connotations of his art and context of the work’s creation. “Regardless of Kolbe’s stance or biography, the use of his art and the ideals that back up that usage add new context to it that bring it closer to that Nazi history,” they said. “It makes it art that keeps those ideas alive on our campus, and I feel like there was a negligence of that because there’s such a desire to justify Kolbe was this or Kolbe was that.”

Kolbe was also able to produce art at a time when Hitler made it impossible for non-Aryan artists to pursue a career. “One had to be a member of this Chamber [the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts] in order to be able to continue working as a visual artist at all,” Brauneis told his audience. This meant that Jewish artists could no longer buy materials and could not continue creating art.

Delman attended Brauneis’s lecture and the two connected the next day so that Brauneis could view the statue and continue a conversation surrounding what Delman described as “complications, decisions, about how works are interpreted.” The gallery does not have plans of selling or discarding the piece, but will keep it in storage so that students and other individuals can build onto the little research that has been done on the statue.

Brauneis’ lecture emphasized the need for having the sculpture removed due to Kolbe’s and the sculpture’s historical ties to the Third Reich, something that was only briefly mentioned in the email President Marcus-Newhall sent prior to the lecture on March 30 regarding the removal of the statue.

In her email, President Marcus-Newhall identified that the reasons for the sculpture’s removal were “the incongruity of displaying the Kolbe sculpture in our wellness center” as well as “the biographical and historical aspects of Kolbe and his art.” The email went on to discuss the sculpture’s optics, but no more mention of the biographical or historical elements of Kolbe or the sculpture were included.

For Delman, this process needs to be carefully considered to ensure that the reasons for the decision do not replicate situations reminiscent of historical mass bannings. “On one hand you don’t want to follow that same model, but with different ideas, and yet it’s still something to talk about,” he said. “You don’t want to just pull things.”

Lehavi was disappointed about the stance the school took, though not surprised. “I would have been more surprised if they did mention Jews,” they said. Dunkin hoped the lecture would lead the community to “finally take steps towards accountability for the harm that Nazi art has caused for Jewish students at Scripps.”

Looking ahead, Delman hopes that students continue involvement in this discussion. “What I haven’t heard is any solutions other than taking down the sculpture,” he said. “Are they interested in developing some sort of broad document that will assist us now and in the future in making these decisions?”

Both Dunkin and Lehavi hope that student art can fill the empty space in Tiernan where the sculpture once was. Delman agrees with this and showed interest in financially supporting a joint initiative with the art department to commission a student piece. “Involving students is what everyone talks about, so might as well do it,” he said.

Image Source: Belen Yudess ’25

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