Union committee discusses history and eventual reinstallation of ‘The Idol’


Courtesy of Union College

The stone lion statue commonly referred to as ‘The Idol’ sits in storage off Union College’s grounds

Michael Rosenbaum, News Editor

On Monday, January 24, a panel composed of members of Union College’s Monuments and Statutes Subcommittee, presented their research on the Chinese lion statue commonly referred to as ‘The Idol’ and presented their committee’s recommendation on the return of the state to the Union campus. 86 people attended the event, according to Union Collge. No exact date for the return of the statue was given, but the proposals for the return of the statue to campus were announced.

The panel was moderated by Zoë Flessas-Finnoche ’23 and Matt Giarratana ’23, with Professor of Visual Arts and Asian Studies Sheri Lullo and Director of Art Collections and Exhibitions Julie Lohnes presenting the research and proposals on the topic. Professor Lullo and Director Lohnes were both part of the subcommittee. Additionally, Professor of Sociology Diedre Hill-Butler, a member of Union’s History and Symbols Committee and President David Harris were both members of the panel as well. 

The panel consisted of two parts, first the presentaion of research and then proposals by Professor Lullo and Director Lohnes respectively. The presentation of the history of the statue focused on how early in the statue’s placement on the Union campus it became vandalized: the very night it was installed. The statue, one part of a pair of stone lions often placed at gates, was a gift from John Farnham of the class of 1856, a missionary in Qing Dynasty China. With the statue’s placement on campus, it was vandalized constantly, despite intermittent efforts to repair damages done to it, from paint stains to damaged caused as a result of the statue being toppled over. There was previous reluctance to interfere in the practice, including from the Board of Trustees. However, that reluctance seems to be gone, according to President Harris, with the Board of Trustees endorsing the Committee’s decision on what to do with the statue.

The decision of what to do with the stone lion was taken up by the Presidents’ Initiative on Race, Power, and Privilege Committee. The options considered, according to Director Lohnes, were removal from the campus either temporarily, relocationtion or gifting of the lion to a different instiution, artistic commission or intervention to add to or amend the work, the creation of a memorial about the lion or the creation of signage to a similar affect, or the full repatriation of the lion to China. The last option was removed from consideration as the was insufficient documentation to determine ownership of the lion before it was brought to the United States. The Committee determined to temporarily remove the statute, clean it, and reinstall the statue as part of a pair. This includes the commissioning of a second lion to be paired with the first. The statues will be installed in a doorway on inside of a case to prevent vandalism or contact with the statues.