“Geese Flying,” a sculpture on the campus of Tyler Junior College, is one of the best known and most loved public art works in Tyler.
Designed by George E. “Pat” Foley, “Geese Flying” was commissioned by the late Watson Wise, of Tyler, and installed in the plaza fountain of the Watson W. Wise and Emma Wise Cultural Arts Center at TJC in 1983.
Foley, who lived from 1922 to 1998, was a well-known sculptor in the Houston area. From 1970 until his death, he was artist-in-residence at the Kinkade School in Houston. As an independent artist, he produced several notable bronze sculptures. Perhaps his best-known work, though, is “The Twelfth Man,” a 7-foot tall statue of E. King Gill that stands at the north entrance to Kyle Field on the Texas A&M University campus.
Some believe “Geese Flying” was inspired by “Swans in Flight,” a sculpture on the campus of what was Ambassador College near Big Sandy (today the location of the International ALERT Academy). “Swans in Flight,” by British sculptor Sir David Wynne, depicts a swan in the five stages of flight and is similar in idea to “Geese Flying.”
Wise received an honorary doctorate degree from Ambassador College. Perhaps Wise liked the Wynne sculpture and asked Foley to propose something similar but on a scale that would fit the fountain in the TJC plaza.
“Geese Flying” is 5 feet high and 10 feet long and depicts a flock of life-size, or slightly larger, geese taking off from a pond. The bronze sculpture was cast at the Shakis Art Bronze foundry in Houston.
On close examination of the piece, I noticed the upward-curving necks of the two geese in front were just not consistent with an effective sculptural design and I couldn’t remember ever seeing a goose’s neck curve in that manner.
I also noticed a number of raw welds without patina located on the necks of these two geese and also where the sculpture was welded to its supports in the fountain, suggesting that the sculpture had once been damaged.
J.W. Johnson, the former music director at TJC, taught his classes in the Cultural Arts Center, located next to the fountain plaza. He told me that not long after “Geese Flying” was installed, the fountain was left on overnight during a very hard freeze and two of the geese broke off under the weight of the accumulated ice.
Johnson said two or three of his students held a memorial service for the broken geese that included a eulogy, “Taps” and the old gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away.” According to Professor Johnson, by the time the service was completed, there were dozens of people gathered around the fountain.
I later discovered Carol Little’s book, “Outdoor Sculpture in Texas,” published in 1996. Carol and her husband, Robert, researched and photographed every piece of outdoor sculpture they could find in the entire state of Texas. Robert photographed “Geese Flying” sometime between its installation in 1983 and when it was damaged in 1985. The photograph on page 425 shows all five geese with straight necks pointed in the same direction (instead of the necks of the two in front curving upward).
Later, I visited with Mitch Andrews, director of principal gifts at TJC and a former student who took part in the geese memorial service. To my amazement, Andrews reached up on a filing cabinet in his office and produced the small (maybe 12-inch long) concept model that Foley prepared in order to show Mr. Wise his sculptural idea in order to get the commission for the artwork.
Foley constructed the concept model in sculptor’s wax and it is still in perfect shape. I think it is remarkable that we still have such an important part of the public art history of Tyler so readily at hand.
Day researches and writes about public art in East Texas.