It can be said that our college campus is so beautiful, it’s frightening. Walking past Hall towards Gummere or the apartments after a late night in Magill, one is enveloped by the dark and silent air, the moonlit sky. The naked branches of the trees reach out, as lifeless fingers. An outline appears from the dark to the left, a shadow with the figure of a running man! Surprise, bewilderment, fear, and curiosity! What could this spectre be?
The puzzling figure is a 300-pound bronze sculpture of a running man in mid-stride. The statue, appropriately entitled “Running Man,” was donated to the College in 1986 by Milton Ginsburg, a collector of modern art who was also a philanthropist and a Friend of Haverford.
The statue was made by British sculptor Elisabeth Frink. A Getty Museum profile describes how Frink was inspired by the Polish soldiers she encountered during World War II. The men “struck [Frink] as foreign and mysterious,” causing her to “treat the male body as withheld, mysterious, and threatening.” In the 1970s, Frink made a series of running man statues, including the one on our campus. The Getty profile describes the statue as “athletic” and kinetic, but also as “vulnerable” in its nakedness. The ambiguous face is meant to express that this is “a human figure outside time and place.”
Not all have respected the figure’s mysterious elegance. On the morning of October 26th, 1986, the statue was found “sprawled on the ground with one of its arms snapped off and thrown through a window in the passage connecting The Field House and Ryan Gym,” according to a 1986 Bryn Mawr-Haverford News article. The College paid $500 to weld the statue’s arm back on, but the perpetrators were never found.
Many who pass by the statue today briefly question its origins before forgetting its existence entirely. While Frink too thought the image of the male form was an enigma, she took the next step towards challenging the enigma and trying to understand it better. That challenge belongs to the creator, the inventor, the artist. Perhaps Frink and her obscure depictions of men in the midst of exercise suggest that the artist is the one who dwells deeper into her curiosity.
Try to run with that the next time you walk by the “Running Man” late at night.
Special thanks to Krista Oldham at Special Collections for the 1986 Bryn Mawr-Haverford College News article.