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Small-scale Nature Boy returns to WSU

Wheatley with Nature Boy maquette
 
Anna Wheatley, WSU libraries’ interim director of development, poses at the
exhibit containing Mini Nature Boy, an older, small-scale version of the one
scaling the wall of Holland Library. (Photo by Linda Weiford, WSU News)
 
 
Nature Boy 2010
Nature Boy in 2010. (Photo by Robert
Hubner, WSU Photo Services)
PULLMAN, Wash. – You’ve come a long way, Nature Boy.
 
For 62 years, the 30-foot tall statue of a lanky male reading a book has dominated the exterior wall of Washington State University’s Holland Library. Workers affixed the massive yet humble-looking 25-ton figure when Harry Truman was president, Nat King Cole ruled the radio and students walked to classes in saddle shoes and leather jackets.
 
Eleven presidents later, as Bruno Mars tops the Billboard charts and students scurry about in Tom’s slip-on shoes, Nature Boy’s miniature brother has finally joined him. Called a maquette, the figure was created by late sculptor Dudley Pratt as a miniature, three-dimensional model to guide him in making the much larger Nature Boy.
For more than a half-century, the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane was home to the four-foot-tall maquette. This school year, the cathedral donated it back to WSU where it’s on display in an exhibit at the Terrell Library atrium through May 13.

“People have already started calling him Mini Nature Boy,” said Anna Wheatley, interim director of development for WSU libraries, who drove to Spokane in November to retrieve the tinier, yet older, version of Nature Boy.

 
Pratt’s maquette was given to board of regents member Charles McAllister who, as dean to the cathedral 1932-1952, had it mounted on a wall of the library of the Cathedral Hill deanery where he lived. When the building was renovated in 2007, the maquette was placed in storage in the cathedral across the street, explained Wheatley.
‘Tall, rangy farm boys’
 
The exhibit – with the maquette, sculpting tools, black-and-white photographs and a typed letter from Pratt in 1953 – offers a glimpse of why Nature Boy was selected and how it was made.

Nature Boy 1949
1949 alumni magazine cover. (Courtesy of WSU Manuscripts,
Archives and Special Collections)
“The figure itself is patterned after the tall rangy farm boys who seem typical of your students,” wrote Pratt in a letter to WSU librarian Hanna Krueger, further explaining that it was selected from 20 designs presented to the board of regents.

“They made this choice because it was the simplest possible expression of the meaning of a library,” he said.

In 1949, Pratt chipped, hacked and pounded away at 60 tons of Indiana limestone to create the statue for WSU, which, back then, was called State College of Washington. Two decades earlier, construction workers had used the same kind of limestone to build the 102-story Empire State Building. Once completed, Pratt’s statue was transported by freight car from Indiana to Pullman, his letter explains.

After Mini Nature Boy completes his appearance in the exhibit, he’ll become a permanent fixture in the library, probably inside Terrell’s Quiet Study Lounge, said Wheatley.

 
“It’s a perfect way to marry Holland Library to the newer Terrell Library,” she said.
 
Named after popular song
 
How did Nature Boy get his name? For all the statue’s heft, the name is rooted in a sentimental song of yesteryear.
 
Wheatley, who assembled the exhibit with manuscripts librarian Cheryl Gunselman and student employee Annie Druffel, found that the answer stretches back to the era of Truman and saddle shoes.

Officially designated as “The Reader,” students started calling him Nature Boy after Nat King Cole’s hit song by the same name. The statue is featured on the November 1949 cover of the university’s alumni magazine with a caption explaining: “Students have dubbed the….ornament, ‘Nature boy.’”

“All these years later, the name Nature Boy stuck. Now we have the mini version with us as well,” said Wheatley.

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