“If you see a fountain, you go to it. That’s just natural in us,” said Aristides Demetrios, sculptor of Stanford’s iconic White Memorial Fountain. Students know it better as “the Claw.”
The urge, innate or not, is visible virtually all times of day. It is a site for studying, swimming, kayaking, conversing, playing music and, before Big Game, skewering the Cal mascot, Oski the Bear.
“People are just drawn to that space,” said Julie Cain, project coordinator for Stanford Heritage Services. “You see people in it and enjoying it, or just sitting and reading and hearing the sound of the water, because it’s like music. It does everything a fountain should do.”
The design for Demetrios’ sculpture, which was installed in 1964, was selected in a competition. To come up with the blueprints, he went to campus each day for a month straight, he said, studying the proposed site from every angle and at all times of day.
“What I noticed was that every hour, on the hour, all the students came by; and whatever you put there, the lower six feet of it would be masked,” he said.
To keep the blur of bicycles and hurried pedestrians from obscuring it, Demetrios made sure the sculpture was as meaningful when seen above the heads of passersby.
“I made something that, if you cut it off at six feet, it’ll make two sculptures, one little one and one big one,” he said. “In the normal course of the day, you could have a sculpture that was at once tall, at once short.”
One of the most powerful aspects of the Claw, Demetrios argued, is the seemingly constant change in its shape and thus in a viewer’s experience with it.
“It is different no matter which way you come at it,” he said.
In the umpteen-way-intersection that is White Plaza, the possibilities for new views are endless.
The fountain was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond B. White to honor their sons, William N. White ’49 and John B. White II ’49, who died in separate accidents before they graduated.
“The tragedy of people dying young is that you never knew what they might be,” Demetrios said. “So every form starts with something solid, and ends in water, which is not solid; it’s amorphous. The wind blows it, it goes this way and that way.”
The fountain is nearing its 50th anniversary on campus. It has been upgraded over the years: its jets were retuned last spring and the steps leading into it have been removed.
According to Demetrios, “It’s more humanly accessible now than it was when it was first dedicated.”
–Ann Tyler Moses