The Eagle: Today’s featured digital object
Friday, June 3rd, 2011
Posted by Kevin Miller
Symbolism, as we know, is often weighty. But the giant bird of prey that greets students entering Payson Library makes an especially hefty statement on the subject of freedom, weighing in at 800 pounds. Officially known as “American Eagle,” the wooden sculpture depicts the beast alighting atop a snarling mass of branches, mid-screech as it spreads its seven-foot wingspan above. No matter your personal opinion regarding the aesthetic virtues of the piece, its origin story is fascinating and worth sharing.
The eagle landed in Payson Library in 1972 as a gift from Fritz Huntsinger, Sr., a businessman whose quiet philanthropy belied a surprisingly “cinematic” personal history. Born in Switzerland at the turn of the century, Huntsinger fought for the Germans in World War I, a disillusioning experience that led him to immigrate to the United States in 1923 at the age of 24. Settling in Ventura, California, he worked his way from floor-sweeper to Chairman of the Board with the Vetco manufacturing company, taking a break along the way to fight for the Allies in World War II.
If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he leant it (along with a lot of cash) to the Huntsinger Academic Center, which includes Payson Library. The eagle was his personal touch. Huntsinger commissioned the carving from two sculptors in Taiwan, who carved the figure from a single piece of teakwood based on his specifications. For Huntsinger, the eagle embodied “total and complete freedom,” including “academic freedom,” and served as a gesture of gratitude to the nation that enabled the transformative gains of his life.
In this photo, from the University Archives Photograph Collection, we see the eagle in its original location at the heart of Payson Library. Following massive renovations to the library in the mid-1980s, the eagle moved to the new entrance, where it resides today.