Director's Welcome

James Steward

Princeton is home to one of the country’s most significant collections of twentieth- and twenty-first-century sculpture. Following in the tradition of civic statuary and public monuments, Princeton’s collection places extraordinary, durable works of art in the path of everyday life for members of the University community and visitors to this beautiful and historic campus. The core of the collection was assembled for the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection, funded by an anonymous benefactor and named for the World War II fighter pilot and member of Princeton’s class of 1945. The range of work, including new additions in various media, contribute to what Lewis Thomas, Class of 1933, termed “the look and the feel of an institution deliberately designed for thinking.” As noted by William G. Bowen, President of Princeton University from 1972 to 1988, “the collection is a source of vitality, a reminder of the possibilities of form, for each of us as we walk on the campus.”

About the Project

Campus Art at Princeton enhances the educational and visceral experience of art and sculpture on campus for students, the local community, and visitors alike. Visitors can hear the voices of Museum curators and experts involved behind the scenes, including fabricators, installers, conservators, and photographers. For some of the works, architects and historians contextualize the art in relation to surrounding architecture and University history. Users can browse a light box of images or take walking tours using an interactive map divided into five campus neighborhoods. As new works are installed and new perspectives added, the site will continue to evolve.

History of the Collection

During the University’s first two hundred years, public sculptures—primarily commemorative monuments and civic or decorative statues—were used to embellish campus buildings and exterior courtyards. It was not until 1968, with the gift of the John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection, that sculpture as a fine art was embraced and integrated into the campus plan. Gifted by an anonymous donor as a memorial to Lt. John P. Putnam Jr., a Princeton alumnus killed in World War II, the collection was assembled over six years by an advisory committee of four Princeton University alumni who were preeminent in the field of fine arts.

The artists chosen for the initial collection of twenty-two sculptures stand as a virtual “who’s who” of modern masters, from Pablo Picasso to Louise Nevelson. As stipulated by the Putnam gift, the sculptures were not placed inside the Museum but installed outdoors, so that students and the community can experience the works in the course of their daily lives. In the years following the Putnam bequest, additional gifts of sculpture to Princeton’s campus, including George Segal’s Abraham and Isaac and Scott Burton’s Public Table, have been a vital part of campus planning

As the campus expands, with new buildings and new disciplines, site-specific installations by acclaimed contemporary artists are being commissioned, including Kendall Buster’s clusters of cell-like orbs suspended from the ceiling in Frick Chemistry and Odili Odita’s energizing graphic mural, which ascends two staircases in the common area of Butler College.

The University’s Campus Art Steering Committee, cochaired by the director of the Art Museum and the University Architect, will ensure that the Campus Collections continue to enrich the University community.

Special Acknowledgements

This project has been made possible, in part, by generous support from the Kathleen C. Sherrerd Program Fund for American Art and the Virginia and Bagley Wright, Class of 1946, Program Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art. 



Patrick J. Kelleher, Living with Modern Sculpture: The John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Art Museum, 1982) and Office of Communications booklet

Sculpture of Princeton University including Works from The John B. Putnam Jr. Memorial Collection (Princeton, NJ: Office of Communications in Association with Princeton University Art Museum, 2011) with contributions from director of the Art Museum, James Steward, Noam Elcott, Kevin Hatch, and Hal Foster

Website Contributers:

Lisa Arcomano,  Kelly Baum, Dan Brennan, Dan Casey, Juliana Dweck, Jeffrey Evans, Erin Firestone, Lehze Flax, John Franklin, Cathryn Goodwin, Caroline Harris, Daniel J. Kearns, Karl Kusserow, Gregg Lange, Marin Lewis, Dan Linke, Cary Liu, Rory Mahon, Ron McCoy, Norman Muller, Michael Padgett, Kyle Palmer, Princeton University Broadcast Center, Janet Rauscher, Jessica Redmond, Betsy Rosasco, Curtis Scott, John Scott, Johanna Seasonwein, Alan M. Stahl, James Steward, Janet Strohl-Morgan, T. Barton Thurber, Bruce White

Image Credits:

Kelly Baum; Jeff Evans; Norman Muller;  Princeton University Archives. Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.  Princeton University Library;  John Scott;  Bruce M. White

Captions (from top to bottom):

*Born in Cleveland, Ohio, John B. Putnam Jr. left Princeton University at the end of his sophomore year to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Force.  He was sent to the European theater of operation in 1944 as a pursuit pilot. Named flight leader of a Thunderbolt fighter squadron, Lieutenant Putnam flew nine combat hours over Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944, and had completed fifty-three combat missions before crashing to his death in England on July 19, 1944, at the age of twenty-three. He wrote in his diary: “Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it.” During the last two and one-half months of combat flying before his death, John Putnam was awarded the Air Medal, six silver-leaf clusters and, posthumously, the Distinguished Flying Cross “for extraordinary achievement and heroism in aerial combat.”

**Members of the Advisory Committee which made Selections for the Putnam Collection
From left:  William M. Milliken, Class of 1911 (HON. M.F.A. ’42), then  director emeritus of Cleveland Art Museum; Alfred Barr Jr., Class of 1922 (M.A. '23, LITT.D. '49), then director emeritus of Museum of Modern Art; Patrick J. Kelleher, Graduate School Class of 1947, then director of the Art Museum. Not present at the time of the photograph was Advisory Committee Member Thomas P. F. Hoving, Class of 1953, Graduate School Class of 1960, then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art