Heroic Figure of Michigan


Randolph Rogers
ca. 1886; Plaster; Sculpture
Gone; Originally in Reading Room of the old General Library Building

Randolph Rogers, famous sculptor of Rome, had spent his childhood in Ann Arbor and late in life decided to give his large collection of plaster casts to the university. Earlier, in 1862, the university had acquired a marble copy of his statue Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, a gift from the citizens of Ann Arbor (Nydia is currently in the Museum of Art). About 96 casts came from Rogers in 1886 and 1888, and represented his major works. One was this symbolic statue of Michigan, which was designed to stand at the top of the Michigan Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in downtown Detroit. The plaster cast of Michigan was placed in the circular reading room of the old library building, where she loomed over students huddled at the desks. Earlier, architect Edward S. Jenison had considered placing Michigan on top of the dome of University Hall, an impractical idea not carried to fruition due to the statue’s being made of plaster. (The statue had been designed by Rogers in 1867, and the Detroit monument cast between 1867–1881, so Jenison was aware of the piece when designing University Hall in 1870.) Around 1902 the plaster Michigan was removed from the library with many other pieces, during a renovation. (The library had been designed to contain an art gallery, until such time as an art museum could be built. The old library was demolished in 1918 to make way for the Hatcher Graduate Library.) Apparently the cast, along with the majority of Rogers’s plaster works, was stored in the basement and tunnels beneath University Hall, where they were subjected to the steam heat. Although some were later exhibited in Alumni Memorial Hall (built 1910 to contain an art gallery), all were eventually lost due to deterioration. However, the Michigan lives on, in the cast bronze version at the top of the beautifully maintained monument in Detroit (see third thumbnail).