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Sample Gates: Honoring The History, Looking To The Future

The Sample Gates were constructed in the 1980s after decades of controversy, but its history is still being written.

sample gates with red and white tulips

Photo: puffclinty (Flickr)

Spring in Bloomington, Indiana features red and white tulips planted in beds by the Sample Gates.

The Sample Gates look like they’ve been a part of the IU Bloomington campus for decades, but due to opposition dating all the way back to the turn of the 20th century, the gates at the entrance to campus on Kirkwood Avenue weren’t constructed until the 1980s.

New Look For An Old Structure

But, the Gates’ history is still being written as some young artists update the collegiate Gothic style to fit with 21st century sensibilities.

Matt Starr has spent the evening hooking up video projectors and speakers to a couple laptops. Along with his creative partner Taylor Bryant, he’s putting on a show at the Sample Gates — or rather, on the Sample Gates.

It’s called video projection mapping, where a 2-D video interacts with a 3-D surface. The relentless dance music and off-the-wall images are drawing a crowd of pedestrians and slowing traffic at the intersection of Kirkwood and Indiana Avenues. They like to call it YouTube animation absurdity.

The way Starr describes it, this is public art made by the eco-conscious artist.

“We’re here for maybe an hour, we turn it off and that’s it,” he says. “There’s no real footprint left behind except for a little electricity, but I think for what people gain, it’s well worth it.”

Blending In With The Surroundings

What people gain, he hopes, is a different perspective of the Sample Gates, which serve at the entryway to Indiana University from Kirkwood Avenue.

Sherry Rouse, curator of campus art at Indiana University, says the gates fit in seamlessly with the surrounding collegiate Gothic architecture of the old part of campus.

“A lot of these buildings were built in the 1800s, early 1900s, so this is much more fitting in this part of the campus,” she says of the old fashioned design of the gateway. “If we had been building an entrance on the other end of campus, it might be very modern.”

Many Donors, No Gates

In fact, a very modern and sleek design was one of the many design proposals put forth for the gateway over the 90 years it took to get them built.

It all started at the turn of the 20th century when the classes of 1899, 1900, 1901 and 1902 established a University “Arch Fund.” When the classes learned a trustee also had his eye on erecting a gateway, those funds were used to purchase the chimes in the Student Building.

Thirty years later, alumnus Newell Sanders came forward with a design proposal. Carrie Schwier, assistant archivist at the IU Archives, says then President William Lowe Bryan and the trustees had reservations because buildings on either side of the site had yet to be built.

“They really wanted to see how the site was going to develop before they started throwing another architectural design into the mix,” she says.

Controversy Prevents Construction

Fast-forward to the early 1960s, University Architects Eggers & Higgins proposed a number of designs, one of which was eventually chosen to be the ultimate design of the Sample Gates. Benjamin Long gave money to build the gateway in honor of his two parents, but backlash from the university community eventually resulted in Long withdrawing his funding.

“It was called ‘wasteful alumni spending,’” says Schwier. “Students on campus and staff members thought that money shouldn’t be going toward this ornamental site on campus. It should be going toward scholarships and bettering the pay of staff members.”

Long Time Coming

It wasn’t until the 1980s when opposition had died down that the gateway would finally be built.

In a twist of fate, it was long-time University director of scholarships and financial aid Edson Sample that provided the funding to build the Sample Gates in honor of his parents.

Schweir, the historian, says walking through the Sample Gates makes her feel like she’s stepping back in time. Starr, the artist, views them from a 21st century perspective.

“Every time I walk by it now, I don’t just see the Sample Gates,” says Starr. “I see Obama and Edward from Twilight and zebra skin and cheetah skin. You really transform the psychology.”

More: Read more about the history of the Sample Gates: “A Coming In, Never a Going Out:” The Vision of the Kirkwood Gateway.

Annie Corrigan

Annie Corrigan is a producer and announcer for WFIU. In addition to serving as the local voice for NPR's Morning Edition, she produces WFIU's weekly sustainable food program Earth Eats. She earned degrees in oboe performance from Indiana University and Bowling Green State University.

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