When you’re new to the College of William and Mary, the last thing you expect to see is a lifeless body lying in the Crim Dell meadow. This brief moment of shock was my first introduction to the fascinating and creepy statue nestled between the trees near the Sunken Garden. Entitled “Spring,” the bronze sculpture depicts two young people, one laying down with a book, the other sitting and reading a love letter. Why is this art piece here on campus? Why does it appear deceptively corpse-like to the average observer? Let’s dive in!
The College bought “Spring” in 1979 as an acquisition from artist John Seward Johnson II, known for his life-like bronze statues. Although “Spring” features a young woman reading a love letter, the sculpture was damaged since its installation, leaving only half of the letter intact. Fortunately, there are other copies of the statue that preserve these crucial details.
The full transcript of the letter reads: “Tina, Hi! you wouldn’t believe how much I miss you! I am having a great time here but I do wish you were here. Next month we go on vacation and I will be home to see you and I hope you still Love me. So what’s new in town? Last week Bill met a girl and Broke up with Sue. Even if I see a good looking girl I think of you and I will never break up with you. I hope you don’t Break up with me for Someone else. Luv you, XXXOOO Johnny”
Despite the rogue capitalizations, cavalier spelling and decidedly bland content, the letter is a sweet declaration of love from Johnny to Tina, who is presumably the young woman reading the letter. The real question is: who is the boy lying next to Tina? Is it Johnny? Is it Bill? Is it some other salacious character, locked in a never-ending love triangle with Tina, despite admonitions to “never break up” with Johnny? When will this dramatic soap opera end?
In addition to the lascivious storyline, the detail on the sculpture is striking. Beside the two figures, there is a pile of books and a Panasonic radio with intricate buttons and knobs, a facsimile that defies the obsolescence of the real thing. From the knitted texture of the boy’s sweater to the draping on the girl’s skirt, it’s obvious that Johnson is a master of his craft.
“Spring” isn’t unique to the College; Johnson made several casts of the sculpture. Other known locations of “Spring” include a public library in East Brunswick, New Jersey, and the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, Ohio. Personally, I think the College location is best. Always in shadow and half-covered with leaves, the statue takes on a life of its own. You can almost imagine the two figures as students at the College doing what students do best: pretending to study while really goofing off (I’m looking at you, Tina). Though I first thought it was a corpse, “Spring” has a lot of life in it after all.