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Phillips Hall Relief Scultpure

 

The figurative limestone relief sculpture is built directly into the east-facing wall on the northern end of Phillips Hall in 1962. It was completed by former Miami art professor Robert B. Butler, who completed four limestone panels of a similar style on the exterior of Hiestand Hall. It depicts three women in dynamic, motion-filled poses. The piece has modernist, avant-garde style with the simplification of human forms and the uniformity between the three figures. Unlike the Hiestand panels, Butler completed the final touches of this relief panel on site (see below).

Excerpt from November 1961 Miami Alumnus

 

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Phillips Hall was originally named Herron Hall, and it was built to house the Department of Physical Education for Women. The commemoration of the physical health of women was appropriate for the site at installation, although modern Kinesiology and Health students all attend classes in this building regardless of gender. The original Herron Gymnasium was in VanVoorhis Hall, which was the main physical education building on campus from 1900-1950. Thus, when a new gymnasium was built in 1962, it was named Herron Hall for the sake of continuity. In Herron Hall, there was a Phillips sitting room and a portrait of Margaret E. Phillips, who was the Director of Physical Education for Women from 1921-1961.

It was typical for physical education to be gender segregated until Title IX in 1968. The department expanded in both size and focus under Phillips's direction, and was renamed the Department of Health and Physical Education for Women to reflect that shift. The curriculum program she established in 1930 is still influential today. In 1974, Herron Hall was renamed Phillips Hall to honor her legacy. However, in all the ceremony and celebration of history, no mention was made of the sculpture of the women on the outside of the building.

The lack of mention of the panels at the renaming is symptomatic of a larger lack of information available to the public about this panel. Given that the piece is placed directly into the exterior wall, it must have been part of the plans for the original building. However, the original plans for the modern Phillips Hall were created by Cellarius and Hilmer, the two architects credited with developing Miami’s famously red-brick, Georgian architecture aesthetic. There are very few similar pieces elsewhere on campus, and the modernist style contrasts with the highly traditional architecture. The information available on the architecture and planning of the building and its subsequent renovations consistently exclude any mention of the sculpture. A final form of erasure occurs in a very physical sense. The façade of Phillips Hall has three distinct sections with three separate doors, and this sculpture is located on the northern-most third of the building, past the northern doors. From the main sidewalk along Oak Street, and from the vantage point of standing in front of the main doors, the view of the sculpture is consistently obstructed by two different trees, the building sign, and two different lampposts. Perhaps the erasure of the sculpture reflects its uniqueness in comparison with the otherwise uniform appearance of buildings on Miami’s campus.