Then there are the collections: numerous and vast archives that gather together discrete worlds of artifacts into systems of order and classification to facilitate study and reflection. The Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art is the university’s principal venue for exhibitions and events, and it serves classes across campus with its special collections and dedicated study galleries. The Kroch Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections is an archive-cum-museum, where the book is revered as much for its text as for its physical presence and material craftsmanship. But perhaps most spectacular is the model collection of invertebrate sea creatures at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, comprising more than 540 luminous glass sculptures of sea specimens, hand-crafted by the nineteenth-century glass artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in order to display to scholars and the public those spineless creatures that could not, as it were, be stuffed and mounted.
The web of art on campus is vast. But when I say that art is everywhere at Cornell, I intend more than the sum of the classes, the students, the faculty, the studios, the shops, and the wondrous collections that support and advance studies in the arts. Quite literally, as a physical place, Cornell itself is a work of art. Much is made of Cornell’s natural beauty, of the extraordinary topography and sublime nature. But to experience Cornell is to recognize the remarkable reach of the design arts. To be sure, the natural geology is splendid. But make no mistake: this landscape is designed. It has been crafted carefully and lovingly— indeed artistically—to produce the picturesque quadrangles that define the individual precincts of the arts, agriculture, and engineering colleges. It is tethered audaciously to its surrounding environs with bridges that span two gorges and provide a platform and frame for viewing 400 million years of earthwork below. It has been leveled into terraces and graded into slopes that yield the grand vistas and secluded nooks that generations of Cornellians discover anew each fall semester. Cornell is a collection of very fine architecture, and recently some extremely important works have joined the historic fabric of the campus. But even more than its buildings, Cornell is an ensemble of artfully sculpted open space, carefully trimmed view corridors, measured promenades and meandering pathways, mighty oaks sited decades ago with great care to appear as if they were always thus. All this makes Cornell one of the finest examples of nineteenth-century campus planning in the country; a great, if always unfinished, work of art; and a most fitting canvas for a community of wildly creative students and scholars, regardless of their fields of study.