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Before and After: The Lilly Library and Showalter Fountain

Three freshmen looking at the Lilly Library on Aug. 26, 1960. Photo courtesy of IU Archives

The iconic photo of three freshmen looking at the Lilly Library, which appeared on page nine of the October 1960 issue of the Indiana Alumni Magazine, is missing what has become the literal and figurative center of the IU Bloomington arts plaza: Showalter Fountain. The fountain was installed in 1961, less than a year after this photo was taken, thanks to a major gift from Grace Montgomery Showalter, BA 1915, LLD’67, in memory of her late husband, Ralph W. Showalter.

Architectural drawings for the Fine Arts Group (IU Auditorium, Lilly Library, and the Fine Arts Building), with a fountain in the central plaza, were proposed as early as 1939. However, due to other building projects, progress on the fountain took decades.

In 1952, Fine Arts Professor Robert Laurent was selected to design the sculpture that would eventually sit in the fountain’s basin. While on sabbatical in Italy, he began to visualize a sculpture of the birth of Venus—the Roman goddess of love, beauty, and fertility. The result was a 15-foot Venus reclining in a clamshell, surrounded by dolphins (and previously a fish). The massive piece of artwork has been and continues to be a site of protest, revelry, vandalism, and nostalgia at IU Bloomington.

Showalter Fountain was installed in 1961 thanks to Grace Montgomery Showalter, whose gift to the university was in memory of her late husband, Ralph W. Showalter. Photo courtesy of IU Office of the Bicentennial

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 issue of 200: The IU Bicentennial Magazine, a special six-issue magazine that highlights Bicentennial activities and shares untold stories from the dynamic history of Indiana University. Visit for more Bicentennial information.

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IU Office of the Bicentennial

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