February 21, 2018

New University Installation Will Grapple With Mixed Legacy of Woodrow Wilson

By Donald Gilpin

A new installation by Walter Hood has been commissioned by Princeton University to be placed on the plaza beside the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs (WWS) С a step forward in the University’s ongoing struggles with the tarnished legacy of Woodrow Wilson.

The work will be one of the results of the recommendations of a Princeton University trustee committee that proposed a permanent marker at WWS “to educate the campus community and others about the positive and negative dimensions of Wilson’s legacy.”

The University announced on April 4, 2016 that it would not change the name of the WWS or of the residential college which also bears the name of the 28th president of the United States and the University’s 13th president, despite protests and demands condemning Wilson’s record of racist policies and actions. The trustees committee, however, also called for “an expanded and more vigorous commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton” and a series of initiatives to contextualize Wilson’s legacy and to “diversify campus art and iconography.”

Woodrow Wilson dean and marker committee co-chair Cecilia Rouse noted that Hood is “a preeminent artist whose skill is capturing complex issues in art.” She stated, “The work is important because it will attempt to capture Woodrow Wilson’s legacy — both positive and negative aspects, as well as those on which reasonable people can disagree.”

Further emphasizing the complexity of Wilson’s biography, Rouse continued, “Wilson is omnipresent at Princeton, so it is important that we paint a full picture of the man who had such an impact on our campus and country. In particular many don’t know about his legacy on race, which — even by the standards of his day — were quite regressive. If we are going to talk about his progressive policies as president of Princeton and president of the United States, it is important to also talk about his regressive actions and views.”

The sculpture is titled Double Consciousness, a concept and name drawn from W.E.B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk (1903) in which Du Bois wrote about the African-American identity: “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” Du Bois wrote. “One ever feels his twoness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

The installation is planned as a work of two columns with surfaces of black and white, etched with words representing the complexity of Wilson’s legacy.

Hood, a recipient of the 2017 Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award, is the founder and creative director of Hood Design Studio in Oakland, California. He is also a professor of landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and lectures nationally and internationally.

Hood was not available for comment on his plans for the installation.

Hood Design Studio’s award-winning work has been featured in Dwell, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fast Company, Architectural Digest, Places Journal, and Landscape Architecture Magazine.

“We are a cultural practice committed to a diverse public realm,” states the Hood Design Studio website. “From art objects to landscapes encompassing the urban field, our work is always attentive to place, people, and the idiosyncrasies that arise.”

Rouse applauded the selection of Hood to create the installation. “We have every confidence that the design will meet our charge of showing the complexities of Wilson’s legacy,” she said.