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The Northwestern University campus on Evanston’s beautiful lakeshore holds many charms – and a few surprises. Among the surprises are the two sunken gardens at either end of the iconic Charles Deering Memorial Library, built in 1933. Constructed for outdoor reading at the time of the building, the gardens are now quiet, “secret” places of solace, peace, even tryst.

Although there are heavy double doors leading to the lower floor of Deering from each garden, these are fire doors now, locked and alarmed. The gardens are open but only accessible to students and public by wide stone stairways (with handrails) at the side.

These two gardens are part of a grassy “moat” that was included in the design of the Deering Library from its conception, going all the way around the building. Theodore Wesley Koch was the power behind the planning and construction of the Library and its collection, Deering the benefactor. The Deering family is still involved, said Kevin Leonard, University Archivist.

Koch wanted gardens as open-air study spaces for students. The resulting gardens connect through a series of arched stone doorways, guarded by cast-iron gates with serious spikes at their top. The gates are usually closed and locked, but I found them open on my recent visit and was surprised that they led to a third, larger walled garden, on the west façade of the building.

A statue of David by Paul Manship has been placed outside the Art Collection Reading Room. (Photo by Gay Riseborough)

The West Garden is no longer available to students or the public, but used to hold benches and sculpture – a bronze statue of David as an adolescent (American artist Paul Manship) as well as a marble fountain topped with a trio of toddlers in bronze (Danish artist Rudolph Tegner), and The Refugee or Exile (Russian-American sculptor Jules L Butensky) in bronze, tucked into the southwest corner.

At some point, however, the Tegner and Butensky were stolen, never to be found, and the David was vandalized. David was consequently moved indoors, where he now guards the entrance to the Art Collection Reading Room.

In 1970, with the construction and opening of the University Library and its towers, most collections and patronage shifted there, Leonard said. Deering is now home to special collections and archives, Northwestern journals and books on art and architecture.

The interior of Deering Library contains other statuary, a figure at each of the north and south turns of the immense staircases, a Monk and an Arab Scholar. And there are two bas-reliefs, one with the face of Theodore Wesley Koch himself under the Northwestern seal! He looks a bit like Winston Churchill.

Theodore Wesley Koch, the power behind the planning and construction of Deering Library, is depicted below the Northwestern University seal. (Photo by Gay Riseborough)

Each of the two sunken gardens is inhabited by a beautiful bronze goddess sculpture – the north garden by a 1930s version of the goddess Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, abundance and motherly relationships. In the south garden there is a statue of the goddess Diana.

In Greece, Ceres was known as the goddess Demeter, whose only daughter Persephone, having been abducted to Hades, was allowed to return yearly, bringing joy to her mother and spring to the world. In the bronze arms of Northwestern’s Ceres, she holds bouquets of flowers, symbols of bounty.

The sculptor was artist Carl Heber, an American sculptor noted for his public monuments. A German immigrant to the United States at a young age, Heber lived in suburban Dundee, later moving to Chicago where he studied with the well-known Lorado Taft at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Heber continued his studies in Paris at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts before returning to the United States. He eventually settled in New York City and many of his works can be found in New York state. There is no specific date for the Ceres statue, but she apparently “arrived” in the 1940s, the Deering Library staff said.

Ceres by sculptor Carl Heber. (Photo by Gay Riseborough)

The garden itself is not in good condition. The slate patio stones are chipped and broken, the former plantings long gone or overgrown with ferns. Leonard said that maintenance is “different” during different decades and that renovations are often planned but haven’t happened yet.

Deering’s south sunken garden, where the Diana statue was moved and has resided since the 1980s, was named the Koch Memorial Garden in 1943 but is now the Koch-Erickson Memorial Garden, in commemoration of the work of the aforementioned Koch and former Northwestern University librarian Rolf Erickson.

Erickson, Head of Circulation, was the “soul and personality of the library, with a remarkably outgoing demeanor” and the unofficial “greeter” for Northwestern University, Leonard said. Erickson was famous for developing the automated circulation system and was a scholar and expert on the Norwegian-American experience. He argued often for the restoration of the gardens but tragically died young and did not live to see it.

The goddess Diana, in the south garden, is a bronze replica of an award-winning sculpture created in 1922. It was a gift to Northwestern from the artist, Anna Hyatt Huntington, in 1939. She first went into the north garden, with Ceres. There are at least seven other replicas of this Diana sculpture in public and private collections in the U.S. and France.

Diana by sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. (Photo by Gay Riseborough)

Hyatt Huntington was among New York City’s most prominent sculptors in the early 20th century. At a time when very few women were successful artists, she had a thriving career. She once studied with Herman Atkins McNeil, interestingly, the same artist who did the two statues flanking the entrance to Patten Gymnasium, 2407 Sheridan Road, also on the Northwestern campus.

During the first two decades of the 20th century, sculptor Hyatt Huntington became famous for her animal sculptures. In 1915, according to Wikipedia, she created the first public monument by a woman to be erected in New York City. Her Joan of Arc, located on Riverside Drive at 93rd Street, is the city’s first monument dedicated to a historical woman.

Diana is the Roman name for the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals and the moon. A virgin fertility goddess, she was invoked to aid in conception and delivery, therefore considered the protector of childbirth. Diana is often depicted with bow and arrows, as she is in this lovely garden.

These gardens, as well as the better-known Jens Jensen-designed Shakespeare Garden, planned in 1915 and built from 1916 to 1929, have been a joy for visitors to the campus and an inspiration for local artists.

In 1920, the Garden Club of Evanston began planting the Shakespeare Garden with more than 50 plants mentioned in William Shakespeare’s works.

 A popular place for weddings now, this garden was the first Shakespearean Garden in the United States. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It is accessed via Garrett Place, off Sheridan Road.

The Shakespeare Garden at Northwestern University. (Photo by Zinya Salfiti)

Further, these are romantic places. While the Shakespeare Garden has borne witness to many weddings and the sunken gardens have not, Julie Meridian, Evanston artist and photographer tells the following sweet story.  

“Once I visited Diana and her courtyard was scattered with a path of flower petals leading to a sign with a proposal of marriage.” (Below, see Meridian’s incorporation of the Diana statue into her artwork.)

(Photo by Julie Meridian)

Although most of the sculptures outdoors on the Northwestern campus are under the care and direction of the Block Museum, for some reason, several are not – these two bronze goddesses and the sculptures on the Deering’s interior among them. Perhaps because these works predate the museum itself? But the Deering staff is “proud to claim them as their own,” said Leonard.

The public is welcome to explore these gardens and to enjoy the interior of the Deering Library as well, during daytime hours. All that is required to enter the building is an ID and, these days, a mask.

Gay Riseborough

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.

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  1. Thank you to Gay Riseborough for her comprehensive coverage of these favorite places on my campus walks. I enjoyed learning the history of those secret places at the Deering library. The Shakespeare Garden is always delightful.

  2. Thanks for this great article. I have long admired Deering and the landscaping around it–now that I know more about them, I will appreciate them even more.