The Sower

Writer: 
March 31, 2006
Transitions: The Sower in the Sixties
The Sower, newly restored, on Duke's East Campus

 Transitions: The Sower in the Sixties, top, and today, below, newly restored
Photos: Duke University Archives

 

The bronze statue of The Sower recently returned to its East Campus home, newly restored after receiving some much-needed cleaning and repair. Over the years, this campus symbol has been mistaken for Johnny Appleseed or, in one instance, Mr. Duke planting his money. The late-nineteenth-century German-made statue depicts a seventeenth-century peasant sowing in the fields. James B. Duke donated the statue in November 1914, after former Trinity College President John Kilgo admired it during a visit to Duke's estate in New Jersey. Duke, who had discovered The Sower while on a grand tour of Europe, purchased it in Leipsic.

Kilgo, then a bishop in the United Methodist Church, was drawn to the statue in part because of an inspiring baccalaureate sermon given at Trinity College two years earlier based on the parable of the sower from the Gospel of Matthew. Kilgo also admired the statue's "strength and nobleness of face and the strong arm with which the laborer faced his daily toil." He believed the statue would be a powerful model for students as they completed four years of study and prepared to face new challenges.

On campus, the statue assumed a role quite different from what Kilgo had had in mind. Trinity women were allowed to have only three dates a week, but they could walk through designated sections of campus with gentlemen and not have it count as a date. The Sower became a popular destination for these couples and, eventually, began serving the role of "Cupid." Couples started placing pennies in the statue's hand; if the coins were gone the next time the couple returned, the gentleman could claim a kiss.

— Pyatt '81 is a University Archivist.