Happy birthday, Alma Mater! A gift from the Classes of 1923-1929, the University of Illinois’ beloved Alma Mater sculpture was dedicated and unveiled on June 11, 1929. In honor of her 88th birthday coinciding with the university’s sesquicentennial celebration, we’re taking a look at some of the iconic moments in Alma’s life at Illinois.
Cast in bronze,“Alma Mater” was created by alumnus Lorado Taft. A prolific sculptor, educator and writer, Taft garnered fame for his works of art and his efforts to bring culture to the rapidly industrializing state of Illinois. This image of the statue, circa 1928 from the University Archives’ Lorado Taft Papers, depicts a partially completed Labor on the left and Learning on the right and the empty chair where Alma Mater would be standing.
Originally located behind Foellinger Auditorium, Alma Mater relocated to the corner of Green and Wright Streets in 1962, despite student protest. The Daily Illini disagreed with the choice as well, writing the new location was in the “worst possible taste; it makes the Alma Mater a debased, commercial advertisement for the University.”
From a guitar for Krannert Center’s ELLNORA festival to giant movie popcorn for Ebertfest, Alma Mater frequently joins in celebrating and supporting campus events.
To fix years of water corrosion damage, the Alma Mater sculpture was sent to a Chicago conservator on Aug. 7, 2012 to be restored to its original condition. Items were found inside the base of the Alma Mater sculpture when it was removed in 2012, and nearly 1,300 members of the community supplied greetings to be placed inside the pedestal base as a time capsule when she returned. The sculpture officially returned to campus on April 9, 2014, with a dedication ceremony on June 6. Watch a video about the restoration.
There’s also a webcam timelapse of the reinstallation of the Alma Mater on April 9, 2014, courtesy of the Alma cam.
They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. Over the years, students — costumed as Alma Mater and the figures that flank her left and right sides “Learning” and “Labor” — have dressed up as members of the sculpture. Students costumed as “Alma Mater” have traveled around Chicago to greet Illinois alumni and filled in for the sculpture trio during the statue’s absence from campus during its 2012-2014 renovation.
So happy birthday, Alma Mater! You look better with every year (and in every season).