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Jon Rush in front of his sculpture Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg

Sculptor Jon Rush considers Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg, his memorial to U-M alum and World War II humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg the most personally significant of his public sculptures on campus. The inscription carved in granite reads: “One person can make a difference.”

Sculptor’s Campus Works Celebrate Humanitarian Ideals, Growth and Change

In 43 years of teaching sculpture and drawing, Jon Rush has been generous in teaching aspiring artists how to express themselves through drawing and sculpture. At the School of Art and Design, from which he recently retired, he developed a foundry where students could explore the techniques of lost wax bronze casting and was instrumental in developing an extensive metal fabrication studio which brought industrial metal cutting, forming, and overhead lifting capabilities to sculpture at the School. But among his most enduring and least celebrated gifts to the U-M community is the legacy of sculpture he created for permanent public display on our campus.

Uniquely Michigan recently visited these sculptures with Rush who shared insights into the inspiration behind each work and explained some of the aesthetic, intellectual and logistical challenges involved in the design and installation of each sculpture.

Rush says that Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg (located at the west front entrance of the Art and Architecture Building), a memorial he created to honor the spirit of U-M architecture alum and humanitarian Raoul Wallenberg, is the most personally significant of his four works of public sculpture on campus. Educated at U-M (Architecture ’35) Wallenberg was a Swedish humanitarian who, during the later stages of World War II, was sent to Budapest, Hungary, by the Swedish government. There, under diplomatic protection, he endured great personal risks to save Hungarian Jews who would otherwise have been transported to the Nazi Death Camps. By issuing Jews protective passports which identified them as Swedish nationals and offering them sanctuary in safe houses which provided diplomatic immunity, Wallenberg is credited with saving 100,000 lives before he was taken into custody by the Russians. He was sent to a Soviet prison in 1945, where he subsequently disappeared.

Group photo at Koszonom Memorial

In a photo taken during a visit to the memorial are (from left) Professor Jon Rush, Nina Lagergren (Wallenberg's sister), and her daughters Nane Anaan (wife of former UN Secretary General Kofi Anaan) and Mi Wernstedt.

"If I can be remembered for anything I've contributed to this University, I would hope that it would be this Wallenberg memorial sculpture," says Rush. "I thought about it for three years, doing numerous drawings and working it over in my mind.  From design to installation, it was a struggle. Yet, I consider it one of the most significant sculptures I have created.  I am also pleased to know that by its presence it contributes to the University's ongoing effort to honor the memory of this great hero."

Rush notes that while Wallenberg was an architecture student during his years at U-M, he never had the opportunity to design even one building. “Instead,” says Rush, “Wallenberg’s legacy is that he was able to create ‘an architecture of sanctuary’ through safe houses that he made possible.”

While Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg honors the sanctuary that Wallenberg created, the memorial also evokes the prison cell to which Wallenberg was ultimately confined. Arranged like rooms, one side of the memorial uses a large horizontal granite slab within a frame of stainless steel to reflect the sense of both prison cell and sanctuary. The stone is inscribed with the words “One person can make a difference.” On the left side, fallen stones and bent steel suggest the crushing weight and destruction of war. A large vertical slab is inscribed “Koszonom Raoul Wallenberg.” Koszonom means “thank you” in Hungarian.

1997 Raoul Wallenberg postal stamp

While Wallenberg’s name is not as widely recognized as some other celebrated U-M alumni, he is the only alum with a United States Post Office commemorative stamp in his honor.

At the memorial’s base is a bronze plaque chronicling Wallenberg’s heroic humanitarianism. An excerpt reads:

“Wallenberg clearly saw the need for one man to bring all his resources of knowledge, creativity, and talent to bear on his efforts to ensure the survival of others. Let us hope his selfless and understanding example will serve as an inspiration as we face the challenges both of the present and of the future."

Convergence sculpture and Jon Rush
To help conceptualize Convergence Rush interviewed ISR employees about their research interests.

The memorial was given to the University by Rush with funds for its construction donated by the family of Sol King, a classmate of Wallenberg’s at the College of Architecture. The memorial was dedicated in 1995 by Swedish Ambassador Per Anger, who worked with Wallenberg in Budapest.

Another of Rush’s public sculptures at U-M is, Convergence, (located on Thompson Street, in front of the Institute for Social Research), an airy meditation on forces of change. Constructed of beautifully burnished stainless steel in the metal fabrication area Rush developed at the School of Art, the sculpture was made possible with the support a grant from the Michigan Commission on Public Art—a state arts agency that was eliminated about two weeks after Rush finished the sculpture. To help conceptualize the sculpture, Rush interviewed ISR employees about their research interests, many of which focused on political and social change. Rush says that he came away from these conversations with the idea of symbolizing ISR’s research on social/political change by using interdependent changing triangular forms.

Sunstructure sculpture by Jon Rush
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Sunstructure is a functional sundial located at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

Sunstructure, located on the north side of the Willow Pond at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, is a functional sundial constructed of Cor-ten steel. The piece was created with the support of donors to honor the memory of Alexandra "Sandy" Hicks (1934-1991), a past president of the Matthaei Garden’s Herb Study Group, and her keen interest in herb gardening, culinary arts, healing plants and her enthusiasm in sharing these interests with others.

Onus, located on the east side of Pierpont Commons, was acquired in 1965 as a gift to the University by the Class of 1961. The sculpture grew out of a spontaneous sketch, says Rush, and represents breaking away from the known and moving out in new directions. Rush says the piece was emblematic of the transition taking place in his own work at the time: “I was beginning to break out of representational work and move in an abstract geometric direction.” He compares the process of discovery going on in the sculpture, to the gradual separation from the family that students at the University go through as they discover themselves and begin to express their individuality. In an ironic twist, the subject matter of the sculpture also echoes Rush’s feelings many years later about his retirement from the School of Art: “Having read the definition of retirement in the dictionary, it simply does not apply to what I have in mind. This separation will be a continuous process of navigation to destinations yet uncharted, with course corrections as required.”

Onus sculpture by Jon Rush
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Describing the inspiration underlying Onus, Rush says: “I was beginning to break out of representational work and move in an abstract geometric direction.”

Cube sculpture by Tony Rosenthal
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Tony Rosenthal's Cube at Regent's Plaza.

In addition to sharing stories about his own works and how each came to occupy its special place on campus, Rush shared an anecdote about the role he played in helping to secure another major sculpture acquisition on campus—The Cube. Rush explained that the class of 1961 wanted to give a gift of art to the campus. Rush suggested that the students examine a catalog of work featured in the Whitney Biennial, an exhibition of recent American painting and sculpture on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. The students especially liked the work an artist named Tony Rosenthal (’36), who turned out to be a U-M alum. Rosenthal at that time was developing a cube sculpture for Cooper Square in New York City. When Rosenthal learned that students from U-M were interested in acquiring his work, he arranged for two Cubes to be fabricated simultaneously, greatly reducing the costs and passing the savings along to the students. On the strength of Rush’s suggestion that the students consider the works of sculptors exhibited at the Whitney, Rosenthal’s Cube has become iconic of things Uniquely Michigan.

Rush’s campus sculptures are included in a web catalog documenting the University’s rich collection of Public Art. For more information about other outdoor campus sculptures, artifacts, memorials and interesting architectural features available for public viewing, click the link in the box below.