Weekend Tourist: Cows and bulls oh my

Unless you’re a University of Minnesota agriculture student, most of us don’t get over to St. Paul’s campus very often. And that’s a shame because there’s lots to see. Both the Raptor Center and Goldstein Museum of Design are worth a trip. And come July, you can see what is probably the most urban cornfield in the country. But since this campus has what is reputed to be the last herd of dairy cattle in Hennepin County, this tour will focus on bovines.

The U’s School of Agriculture opened in 1888. By the early 1900s it was growing and expanding yet photos of the area show only a sprinkling of buildings — this was still a rural area.

The need for a place to study dairy cattle prompted construction of the Dairy Nutrition Barn. Designed by renowned architect Clarence H. Johnston, the barn was built in 1907 in a half-timbered English Tudor style and topped with a copper cupola. Usually barns are utilitarian and not architectural showpieces, but the U was proud of its dairy program and hired Johnson whose earlier work included Summit Terrace Rowhouses, home to F. Scott Fitzgerald (593 Summit Ave.). Many campus buildings built between 1904 and 1936 are the work of his firm. The barn’s former animal stalls, feed bins, milk house and hayloft have recently been repurposed into the Pomeroy Learning Center.  

Public art is plentiful on the U’s campuses. It seems every department has at least one large-scale sculpture. Clearly they believe art matters and we’re all the lucky recipients. But nothing compares to the trio of bulls lounging on newly green grass on The Mall. These Babe-the-Blue-Ox-sized bulls are the work of Peter Woytuk. Born in St. Paul in 1958 to a textile artist mother and architect father, Woytuk spent most of his youth in Massachusetts. After earning an art degree from Ohio’s Kenyon College, he moved to Connecticut and became enamored with his neighbor’s bulls seen from his studio windows.

He started out making small sculptures of crows, hens and sheep. Then his work exploded in scale after discovering a foundry in Thailand capable of casting large amounts of bronze in a single pour. They were used to making 20-foot-tall Buddhas. Each bull weighs about 2,000 pounds! The tallest is 6 feet high, 7 feet wide, and 12 feet long. Though they’re huge, they each have a distinct personality and their sense of playfulness and laziness is evident. The International Herald Tribune called Woytuk “the greatest animal sculptor of the Western world.” These sculptures are real treasures for the whole state.

The St. Paul campus is a great place to wander around. There’s lots of open space, historic buildings and animal barns, but parking can be difficult. Park at a meter by the bulls then take steps just north of Haecker Hall for a shortcut to the barn.

Coffee break
Side-by-side coffee shop and restaurant, Lori’s and Mim’s, cater to university students and have great views of campus and The Mall from their wonderful outdoor patios (1441 & 1435 Cleveland Ave. N.)

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