Louis Houck’s Statuary Collection

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014 Yesterday we showed the exterior of the old First Baptist Church, now Southeast Missouri State University’s Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center. Today, as promised, we’ll “go inside” to see the Barbara Hope Kem Statuary Hall, an auditorium created from the former church’s sanctuary.

I thought the layout of the sanctuary area where the statues are displayed looked a little strange for a church. Two of my readers commented that was because the banks wanted to hedge their bets, so they required that the building be constructed so it could be used as a theater in case the church couldn’t pay off the loan. The balcony, Liz Lockhart wrote, even had space for a projection booth, should it ever be needed.

Plaster casts came from 1904 World’s Fair

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014The statues and other pieces of artwork were bought by Louis Houck after he saw the August Gerber’s reproductions of classical, medieval, renaissance, and modern art works displayed at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. He acquired the casts for $1,888.25.

Lauren Kellogg Disalvo’s master’s thesis, THE AURA OF REPRODUCTION: PLASTER CAST COLLECTIONS AT THE 1904 LOUISIANA PURCHASE EXPOSITION, contains a large section on Houck’s purchase.

Disalvo writes that Houck’s donation of the statuary stipulated that a room be dedicated to them where they could be permanently displayed. The display opened in March of 1905 with the statues in Academic Hall.

Statues damaged and destroyed

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014The casts remained there until 1959, when they were dispersed all over campus to make room for additional classroom space. They suffered from benign neglect over the years, with many being damaged or destroyed. One of my readers wrote that he had seen broken statues in the basement of Academic Hall when he was a student.

(For all I know, Venus de Milo might have had both her arms before SEMO got hold of her.)

Judy Crow takes up the cause

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014In 1975, my friend, Judy Crow, Missourian librarian, wrote a story bemoaning the fate of the Houck collection.

The result was, Disalvo writes, “the plaster casts were gathered, restored and transferred to the Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. The casts remained in the museum until it relocated to the new Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum. According to the museum director, Dr. Stanley Grand, the plaster casts were not included in this new museum since the new museum would focus on the archaeology, history, and fine arts of the Southeast Missouri region.”

I’m not surprised that the River Campus, which knocked down the handball courts, one of the Cape’s oldest landmarks, couldn’t find room for Houck’s donation. The irony is the university probably wouldn’t be in Cape Girardeau today had Houck not used his influence to rebuild Academic Hall after the first one burned down.

Class of 1957 raised $100,000

Louis Houck's Statuary Collection 04-25-2014In 2007, the Class of 1957 raised $100,000 to have the remaining 38 surviving casts restored and moved to the Aleen Vogel Wehking Alumni Center, formerly the First Baptist Church, where they now line the walls of an auditorium area, called the Barbara Hope Kem Statuary Hall.

The display is open to the public. Admission is free. I think Houck would approve.

Louis Houck Statuary photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the gallery.

11 Replies to “Louis Houck’s Statuary Collection”

  1. It is a rather unsettling feeling to see the eleven busts residing in the area once occupied by the baptismal pool where my siblings and I were baptized! I am happy to hear that the sanctuary is open to the public. I always thought it was such a beautiful place with the stained glass, the high ceilings, and the huge chandeliers. I especially liked sitting in the balcony for Sunday morning services. I will look forward to going there on my next trip back to Cape. I was recently provided the privilege of going inside my childhood home, now I will be able to enjoy going inside our family’s church. Thanks, Ken, for reviving another memory of “Home”.

  2. Thanks again, Ken.
    I can’t remember when the statues were taken into ‘protective custody’. I do remember the Venus de Milo statue being beside the bursar’s window in Academic Hall, in the fall of 1973. The clerk sat behind wooden paneling with black iron fretwork at the window, and the floor in front of the window was covered in some sort of patterned mosaic tile, so having Aphrodite in attendance for tuition payments wasn’t quite as strange as it sounds.

  3. Wow another thing in Cape I did know existed!…Venus I remember her from my days in College but never knew where she came from or who gave her to the college. Now I find out that there is whole collection of these given by Louis Houck in the First Baptist Church. One more item to visit when I am in Cape. Thanks buddy!

  4. I am a little sad to see this. My siblings and I were also baptized at FBC, and I was a member there for 22 years. I think the baptismal was behind the paneled wall in the center. The choir sang in front of the baptismal. The two paneled sections on either side in the front had the piano and organ behind them. I have photos of the front from the 1950’s; I will try to find.The church was totally changed in the late 60’s or early 70’s. As a teen I, too, liked to sit in the balcony but we never whispered or passed notes….right, Brenda?

  5. Thank you for the information and the lovely pictures! I have vague memories of seeing a couple of the statues outside the auditorium in Academic Hall when I was a small child in the early-mid 1960’s. I think when I was in college (early 80’s) a few of them were in a pseudo museum located in…Memorial Hall? Is that the name of the building just west of Academic? Lord, my memory isn’t what it used to be…and I’m only 53!

  6. When the statues were in the museum it was because Jim Parker, head of the museum, found the ones, many in private homes, that we can enjoy now. Some he never found. Thank you Jim for your dedication!

  7. Wonderful story. I remember seeing some of these in the old Semo Museum. I’m happy to learn that they have been preserved and are being enjoyed for future generations. Great job class of ’57!

  8. I’d like to get in touch with Kevin Steinhoff, about this article and photos of the “August Gerber statues.
    – – – – – The 1904 World’s Fair Society just had a presentation by Dr. Frank Nickell (40+ years at SEMO) and these statues, which were displayed at the 1904 Fair.
    – – – – – –
    Kevin: You can contact me at my email (truax – at – charter.net) or call me at 618-593-0190. – – – –
    Thanks! – – –

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