Art in the Open

Metz sculpture
There are 33 works on permanent display at UAB, including Ted Metz’s Strata. The highest concentration surrounds the Humanities Building, where 10 sculptures are found within four blocks.

Look around the UAB campus and you’ll see them, in an amazing range of styles and subjects. Some are made of rusted iron, others shine in aluminum and steel. They may bear a human likeness, or mimic the graceful curve of an ocean wave. But though these outsized artworks were crafted by dozens of separate hands, they all owe a debt to a single mind.

Samuel B. Barker, Ph.D., was the first dean of the UAB Graduate School and a major patron of the arts in Birmingham. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, he funded, commissioned, and oversaw the development of a substantial collection of public art works, concentrated predominantly on the UAB campus. Late in his life, he decided to fund an ongoing series of contests to enhance the collection. The Samuel B. Barker Outdoor Sculpture Competition, which began in 1991, has grown into an event of major significance in the arts community, with entries received from artists worldwide. The most recent addition is Vaughn Randall’s monumental Rosette Bobbin, the largest and most expensive work ever commissioned by the university.

Currently, there are 33 sculptures on display around UAB, many of them by Alabama artists. The collection also includes a piece by famed Italian émigré sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, creator of Birmingham’s famous Vulcan statue. Works by two women are included: Martha Hopkins’ Red Tide and Toni Putnam’s Apollo’s Bird, a cast bronze sculpture adjacent to the Sterne Library.

Also of note is Prinzessin Natalie, a kinetic sculpture by world-renowned artist Frank Stella. Made of fiberglass and welded stainless steel, the sculpture is owned and cared for by the Birmingham Museum of Art but resides on permanent loan in the Engel Plaza at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center.