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Davis, California

Thursday, June 20, 2024

UC Davis community celebrates ‘Year of the Eggheads’

Events and campus-wide activities celebrate the 30-year anniversary of Robert Arneson’s Egghead sculptures


By MADISON PETERS — campus@theaggie.org


On April 4, UC Davis officially kicked off the celebration of the ‘Year of the Eggheads’ to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of having the Egghead sculptures on campus.

According to the new Egghead website, artist and former professor Robert Arneson was commissioned to create the Egghead sculptures in 1990. The website suggests that Arneson’s inspiration for the Eggheads came from his trip to the Boboli Gardens in Florence, Italy in which he observed small, Egghead-like sculptures. 

To celebrate the Eggheads’ birthday and Arneson’s legacy, the UC Davis community participated in a range of activities that took place throughout the day, including Egghead exhibits in the lobby of Shields Library, a campus-wide Egghead scavenger hunt and a jazz performance and poetry reading put on by the Music Department and select Master of Fine Arts (MFA) students.

Additionally, students enjoyed 30% off discounts on things from games at the Memorial Union Games Area to breakfast burritos with eggs at the Coffee House and new Egghead merchandise at the UC Davis Store.

For those who wish to learn more about the history of the UC Davis Art Department and Arneson’s works, the first part of a new documentary titled Unexpected Legends: Robert Arneson, Eggheads and Arts at UC Davis” is now available on the UC Davis Youtube account.

Chancellor Gary May opened the documentary by commenting on the significance that the Eggheads hold in the UC Davis Community.

“Robert Arneson’s Eggheads are a defining element of UC Davis,” May said. “They symbolize that we’re serious about all we do, but we are also comfortable being a little quirky, a little unconventional. The Eggheads represent our commitment to public art on campus. Not only do outdoor sculptures like the Eggheads enhance our environment, they encourage us to think critically, to appreciate our surroundings in new ways and leave us inspired by their artistry.”

The Manetti Shrem Museum participated in the celebration by unveiling a new Egghead display titled “Hatched: The Making of Robert Arneson’s Eggheads.” This display features a behind-the-scenes look at Arneson’s process of creating the Eggheads, and includes early clay models of the sculptures. Another photo display titled “Aggies with Eggheads” is also available in the museum lobby.

Sandra Shannonhouse, UC Davis alum, artist and widow of Arneson, spoke at the museum event and delved into Arneson’s intentions for some of the Eggheads. She revealed that some of them have a deeper, more political meaning such as the Eye on Mrak Egghead, which signifies “keeping an eye on authority,” a popular motto used in the 1960s and 70s.

Shannonhouse then elaborated on her experience as a student with the UC Art Department.

“[Taking art classes at UC Davis] changed my life,” Shannonhouse said. “[Those of] you who are students, take advantage of this university and get yourself out of where you think you have to be, or where your parents think you have to be and find yourself. Whether you are making art or doing something else, it all comes from [the heart]. Don’t lose that.”

Following the speech by Shannonhouse, Trevor Bradshaw, an MFA candidate for creative writing, recited a ballad dedicated to the Eggheads and their public perception.

Bradshaw revealed his interpretation of the Eggheads in relation to the Antonio Gramsci quote: “We are living in the time of monsters.”

“I thought it was interesting to think about the relationship of these various kinds of heads as a form of protest art,” Bradshaw said. “In my mind, I started to think of the Eggheads as a kind of playful monster, kind of like a Pokemon. Like any other monster, the Eggheads also function as a mirror. We project onto them our own fears since they show us what is monstrous about ourselves, such as turning a blind eye to suffering to better our careers or pursue knowledge in the name of profit, power or fame.”

This interpretation of the Eggheads as a form of protest art proved to hold some truth in that the night before the event, many of the Eggheads were vandalized by an anonymous party. The graffiti included objections to Gary May’s role on the Leidos Weapons board and pro-Palestinian sentiments.

However, the graffiti was removed before the morning of April 4, and no comments were made by any members of the UC Davis administration.

The event concluded at 7:30 p.m. with a ceremonial lighting of the Eggheads, in which many UC Davis community members gathered around the sculptures and wished them happy birthday.

Egghead celebrations will be continuing on throughout the next month, including special Egghead-themed menus being featured at the Dining Commons through April 12, and Egghead tours hosted by the Manetti Shrem Museum every Saturday and Sunday from May 4 through 24.

Dean of the College of Letters and Science Estella Atekwana spoke at the Manetti Shrem event about the overall importance of Arneson and the Eggheads.

“Arneson and his fellow artist educators, giants on whose shoulders we now stand, built a heaven for creatives here,” Atekwana said. “A place where artists are empowered and encouraged to test the boundaries of their creativity, and push beyond true greatness. That legacy continues to pay its dividends all around our campus today. Thanks to [Arneson’s] spirit and tenacity, we have become something far greater than some of our [counterparts], and we are reminded of our duty to carry on his vision every time we pass an Egghead.”


Written by: Madison Peters — campus@theaggie.org



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