Library hails centaur’s 10th anniversary
Though it may seem ancient, the centaur in the John C. Hodges Library is celebrating only its 10th anniversary, thanks to the efforts of two professors who brought it to The University of Tennessee.
The “Centaur Excavations at Volos” exhibit, located in the Jack E. Reese Galleria, was installed in May 1994. Beauvais Lyons, professor of art and director of the Hokes Archives, spearheaded the move to bring the exhibit to UT.
“The whole process was a learning experience,” Lyons said.
William Willers, professor biology at the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh, created the skeleton of the mythical half-man, half-horse creature. He combined a study skeleton with the skeleton of a Shetland pony and stained the bones with tea.
After Willers exhibited his creation in various locations in Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Ohio in the mid-1980's, he wrote to Lyons that the centaur was just “lying around,” and that he was looking to either show it again or sell it.
In 1992, Lyons and another faculty member, Neil Greenberg, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, appealed to campus organizations and private donors to raise the funds necessary to bring the centaur to UT. The Cultural Affairs Board, the Student Exhibits Committee, University Studies and the Office of Student Affairs all contributed.
In 1993, Lyons drove to Oshkosh to retrieve the centaur. He said it took a year to prepare it for installment in the library. The preparations included the design and construction of a showcase in which to display the centaur, as well as an investigation of Tennessee laws in order to prevent any legal problems that may have been encountered.
It was necessary to determine that the exhibit would not be considered an “abuse of corpse,” Lyons said, citing a statute that prohibits the mistreatment of a corpse “in a manner offensive to the sensibilities of an ordinary person.”
After the legal hurdles were cleared, Lyons and Greenberg had another issue to address because of the authentic look and feel of the exhibit.
“The question was, ‘How do we signal that centaurs don’t exist’” Lyons said.
The answer to this question was another question: “Do you believe in centaurs?,” which is included on the display.
The goal of the centaur “hoax” was to “mislead students to make them critically aware,” Lyons said. “Just because something is in the non-fiction section, does that make it true?”
The lesson is not lost on Kelly Nichols, senior in political science.
“It’s an interesting work. As a college student, you want to question everything. It’s a good lesson,” Nichols said.
Mitchell said the exhibit is a stopping point for students and visitors alike.
“It (the centaur) has been a wonderful addition to the library, in a strange way,” Aubrey H. Mitchell, associate dean of libraries, said. “No one else is buried here. It is a conversation piece with meaning. We like it, we like having it. The centaur is a permanent exhibit.”
From The Daily Beacon, Thursday, August 26, 2004. Vol. 97, Issue 7.