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Written by Tom Lucas, S.J., university curator
September 14, 2015
Image credit: Yosef Kalinko
On August 31, 2015, a major art installation took place on the Seattle University campus. James Rosati's Loo Wit, a 16-foot-tall abstract sculpture made of enameled aluminum, is the gift of alumna Betty Petri Hedreen (SU '57) and her husband Richard Hedreen. Well-known for their love of the arts and contributions to Seattle's vibrant arts community, the Hedreens are pleased to share this outstanding piece with Seattle University students and faculty and with the many visitors to our campus.
Originally commissioned by the Hedreens for a hotel property in downtown Seattle, the piece received its name in a curious fashion. The then-untitled sculpture was being trucked to Seattle at the time that Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980. The transport was delayed for several days on the east side of the Cascades during the period of the eruption. Loo Wit , literally "Keeper of the Fire," is the Sahaptin language group's name for the mountain. James Rosati and the Hedreens decided to name the sculpture Loo Wit when it finally arrived in Seattle. Thirty five years later, the sculpture's journey continues. The Hedreens have donated the sculpture to Seattle University and provided for its installation here on campus.
James Rosati (1911-1988) was an important sculptor deeply involved in the post-World War II art scene in New York. A fine violinist, his first love was music, and he played with the Pittsburg (PA) Chamber Orchestra as a young man. In an interview he recounted his move to three-dimensional art: as he played in the chamber orchestra, "I looked at the classical nudes in the music hall and knew I wanted to become a sculptor."
Rosati's first sculptural works emerged when he was part of the Works Progress Administration's art corps in the late 1930s. He settled in New York in 1944, and became friends with important post-war artists in the abstract expressionist movement including sculptor David Smith and painter Willem de Kooning. During a long career as an artist-educator, he taught sculpture at Pratt Institute and the Cooper Union in New York, and from 1960 to 1973 was professor of sculpture at Yale University.
Moving from figurative art to geometric and gestural abstraction, Rosati's large-scale works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington DC), the Whitney Museum (New York City), the Carnegie Museum (Pittsburg), the Honolulu Art Museum, and the collections of Yale University and Stanford University. One of his best known pieces "Ideogram" graced the plaza of the World Trade Center, and was destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.
Loo Wit is an abstract work, a form that does not have an obvious meaning. Its graceful upper arcs suggest the lyricism of music that Rosati first loved, while its four-square base displays his fondness for solid geometrical forms that characterizes Rosati's later monumental works. In an essay on Rosati's work that accompanied a 1984 show at New York's Marlborough Gallery, art historian Albert Elsen summarized Rosati's artistic goals: "Simply put, Rosati's hopes for his public art are that it will be a positive presence in the community causing people to 'stop, look, return, and enjoy.' People are thereby confronted by something addressed not to their practical needs but their contemplative life: a poetic object in a prosaic environment."
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