Sept. 24, 2013

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Art and science come together near
Purdue's College of Ag campus

sculpture by Tyler

This time-exposure photograph shows one of the two 8-foot-tall multiethnic heads that comprise “Brickhead Conversations.” The recently dedicated sculptures stand at each end of Purdue’s South Campus Plaza outside of the Yue-Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts. 

Purdue Agricultural Communication photos/Tom Campbell

By Tom Campbell

Landscape ecology professor Bryan Pijanowski had never heard of sculptor James Tyler before getting a phone call from him on June 30.

But that’s OK.

Tyler, a New York–based artist, had never heard of Pijanowski until Tyler contacted people at the Indiana Museum of Art . They suggested that the artist and the scientist get together for a project designed to interface art and science through sight and sound.

Sculpture of Head in front of Yue-Kong Pao Hall (2)

Renowned artist James Tyler cut the sculpture into hundreds of brick-size pieces, fired them in his New York studio, then assembled them on campus in July.

The resulting multisensory collaboration was recently dedicated on the Purdue campus. “Brickhead Conversations” is located outside Purdue’s Yue-Kong Pao Hall of Visual and Performing Arts adjacent to the College of Agriculture campus. The two pieces are funded by the Florence H. Lonsford Endowment.

“He called me and we talked about the message of the piece from a scientific standpoint of preserving nature’s sounds in its most intact form,” Pijanowski said of his first conversation with Tyler.

“We talked about his desire to convey the roles of humans in nature: a combination of scientific and artistic expression.”

When visitors approach the two 8-foot, red clay, multiethnic heads, motion detectors trigger the sounds of nature — wind, flowing water, frogs, aquatic birds and insects.  Lots and lots of insects.

A faculty member since 2003, Pijanowski provided the audio files from the more than 750,000 recordings he has collected through the years from places as diverse as the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the jungles of Costa Rica and the Purdue Wildlife Area, just west of Purdue’s West Lafayette campus. He made those sounds available to Tyler, who wanted people to think of disappearance of the sounds of nature in everyday life while observing his sculptures.

Bryan Pijanowski

Bryan Pijanowski and one of his recording devices at the Purdue Wildlife Area just west of the Purdue’s West Lafayette, Ind., campus.

“We included the ivory-billed woodpecker,” Pijanowski said. “I think it is great to include the sound of something that no longer exists on this planet. I think that is important for people to hear, so they understand just how fragile nature can be.”

Tyler completed the sculptures in his New York studio, then cut the clay into small pieces before firing. He then reconstructed the artwork in front of Pao Hall in July. It was dedicated Sept. 4.

The unique combination of art and science impresses Pijanowski.

Access the wetland soundscapes used in this project by clicking here.

“I think science informs and art inspires,” Pijanowski said. “The artwork is inspirational, intriguing and thought-provoking. These pieces make you think of something that is both deep and emotional, which is something science doesn’t always do very well. But a combination of both has awesome powers.”

Contact Pijanowski at

Beloved WWII vet remembered now and forever 

By Tom Campbell

There was a memorial service Sept. 15 to celebrate the long and full life of George Alley, BS ’49. The crowd filled the sanctuary of the Zion United Methodist Church in Fish Creek, Wis., and spilled over into the adjoining fellowship room.

George Alley
George Alley 
photo provided

The 92-year-old Alley died Sept. 1 after living a life that could easily have been a movie.

In fact, slivers of his life can be found in movies such as “A Bridge Too Far,” “Battle of the Bulge,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Alley was in all of those places during World War II but never with the luxury of a director who could stop the action simply by yelling, “Cut!”

Alley grew up on a farm in Metamora, Ind. He also lived in Nebraska before settling down in Door County, a Norman Rockwell–like area of Wisconsin that juts out into Lake Michigan.

But he was living at Purdue for a semester in 1941. And when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December of that year, Alley enlisted in the Army as an airborne infantryman because “it sounded exciting.”

Coming Next Week:

Warren Hinkle's rare collection of agricultural yearbooks that pre-date the Civil War is now a permanent part of Purdue's collection.  Next week, read how Hinkle's books made it from South Dakota to West Lafayette in ConnectionsNOW!.

With only three practice night jumps to his credit at Fort Benning, Ga., Alley shipped out to England, then parachuted behind enemy lines into France the night before the D-Day invasion in 1941 as part of the legendary 101st Airborne Division.

“Our pilot dropped us on the night of June 5 exactly where we were supposed to be,” Alley had said. “But the Germans had blown all the bridges, and we couldn’t get across the river to meet the ground troops landing on Utah Beach. We came down behind enemy lines, and tracer fire went through my chute. But at least we knew where we were.”

Alley returned to college at the end of the war, taking advantage of the GI Bill to earn a degree in forestry. At Purdue he met and became friends with the four Navy veterans profiled in Connections last year.

He quietly spent the next 38 years with the U.S. Forestry Service and the State Conservation Service in Wisconsin until he retired in 1985. He was a Boy Scout leader and supported Door County’s American Folklore Theatre, which was co-founded by his son, Fred.

“George never appeared on our stage or received a dime from our payroll,” said theater co-founder Frederick Heide. “Yet without him and his darling wife, Juanita, AFT as we know it would not exist. George was the hidden patriarch of our troupe. George did everything he could to help us, literally giving us the shirt off his back (which Fred had borrowed for a production of Lumberjacks in Love).”

But above all else, George Alley was a loving family man. During their 60-year marriage, he and Juanita had five children and six grandchildren. Their lives will forever be impacted by Alley’s love. At the memorial service, Alley’s youngest son, John, read a tribute to his father from his computer screen, a paperless production in honor of his father’s love of trees.

Three of his grandchildren posted touching tributes on Facebook after George passed.

“The world lost an amazing man yesterday. He could have told you the family, genus and species of any plant or tree. He would have eaten ice cream for every meal if he could have. Most importantly, he loved his family more than anything in this world,” wrote Chelsea Nicholson.

Amber Waldo wrote, “He taught me to listen to music more gratefully, to read more earnestly and to love more fiercely than I ever thought possible. He fed the finches outside the window even after he couldn’t see them anymore. He was a true giant in a world of men, and in every tree I see, every song I sing, every finch I feed, I will miss him with all my heart.”

A third, Callie Hill, wrote, “I’ll never forget you, Grandpa. And I’ll always think of you and smile every time I’m in my garden, eating asparagus and green beans, trying hopelessly to identify trees or eating a burnt meal. I remember you told me, ‘When I was in the Army, they served gravy on our peaches, and we were happy to have it.’”

And we were happy—no, fortunate—to have George Alley as part of the Purdue College of Agriculture, just as the finches he fed and the family he loved were fortunate to have him as part of their world, too.

Patty Williamson of the Door County (Wis.) Peninsula Pulse contributed to this story.



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