Art in the Archives: Edgar Odell Lovett (1871-1957)

At the entrance of the reading room of the Woodson Research Center stand a bust and a maquette of Edgar Odell Lovett, first President of the Rice Institute. Educated at Princeton, Lovett spent the first years of his career as a professor of mathematics at Princeton. Nominated by Woodrow Wilson for the presidency at Rice, Lovett and his wife, Mary Hale Lovett, spent a year (1908) taking a world tour of colleges and universities, examining best practices at leading institutions around the world, and developing a bold and innovative vision for the Institute.

In the Houston community at the turn of the 20th century there was nothing like Lovett’s vision. Lovett planned an institute which would provide research, scholarship, and teaching of international quality. To accomplish this he attracted faculty from the best universities, gifted students, and supervised the building of a campus notable for its beauty. To form the character of the Institute he advocated the establishment of a residential college system and the honor system. Lovett’s words at the formal convocation of the Institute in 1912 still inform the vision for the university: “no upper limit to its educational endeavor.”

During the Centennial celebrations in 2012 Rice University unveiled an 8-foot bronze statue of Dr. Lovett in the Keck Hall courtyard. The original statue of Lovett, as well as the maquette and bust on display at the Woodson, are the works of artist Bruce Wolfe (1941-), noted for his dynamic sculptures of individuals such as Barbara Jordan and Margaret Thatcher. This image of Dr. Lovett reflects the scholar as a young man, striding forward into the future with confidence in all its possibilities. The bust is a gift of the artist to the university, an exact replica of the bust on the full-sized statue.

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