Art and Architecture of UConn Storrs: An examination of the Benton, the quad, McHugh Hall and the paintings of Peter Waite

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The Benton Museum hosts a Art in Small Bites, a campus walk with docents, to learn about the architectural influences on the university, and LEED certification in Laurel Hall. (Avery Bikerman/The Daily Campus)

On a sunny April day, a small group joined docent Judy McChesney for an Art in Small Bites tour of the quad, the Benton Museum’s architecture and Peter Waite’s paintings on display in McHugh Hall. The nice weather was conducive to the outdoor tour, and the springtime scenery highlighted the charm of the Benton and the surrounding areas.

Leading attendees out into the sunshine, McChesney first discussed the history of the Student Union quad. According to the docent, planners for the University of Connecticut wanted to create a space where scholars and students could grow together. They designed the quad to be much like the one that Thomas Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia.

McChesney stated that planners wanted the space to “be informal and naturalistic, a kind of place they were envisioning where every man … could be educated.”

“So, there’s a lot of meandering trails around here, the buildings were set up so that they would be perpendicular to 195, they created Swan Lake, so that that would be … part of a park-like setting,” McChesney said.

Moving around the side and back of the Benton, McChesney talked about the collegiate gothic style in which the Benton was designed. Recurring elements of the style include the limestone belt that runs around the Benton, the segmented archways around some of the Benton’s doors, buttresses and triptych (triple-set) windows,

As attendees viewed the Benton from the back garden, one person remarked that the “underused” space “has got to be the prettiest spot on campus.” McChesney agreed, stating that the area behind the Benton was a “secret gem.”

The knowledgeable guide further elaborated on the different architectural features of the Benton to give attendees a sense of the building’s history and design. What is now the Benton Museum was originally called the Beanery and functioned as the campus’s dining hall. The dining hall was located in the center of campus to foster a spirit of community and closeness among those at UConn.

From the garden area, the group drifted over to McHugh Hall, formerly known as Laurel Hall. The classroom building, according to McChesney, is supposed to be a sort of community building since classes in any department can be held in McHugh. Additionally, McHugh has earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification for its environmentally-friendly features such as a rooftop garden and paving stones that let run-off rainwater seep through the cracks in between them.

Inside the building, the group viewed Peter Waite’s paintings of various chairs in between the two large lecture halls. Featured chairs included a lonesome seat in a blue library, a set of chairs for a jury, an electric chair and baseball stadium seats. Notable about the paintings was Waite’s exclusion of people. McChesney pointed this out, stating that Waite hoped viewers might insert themselves into the empty seats and think about the situations they might be going through if they found themselves in those chairs.

“We’ve always got chairs, but we normally think of a chair as a place to sit, someone should be seated there,” McChesney said.

The tour concluded with the observation of Waite’s paintings, but the group accompanied McChesney back to the Benton, eager to learn more about art and architecture on campus.


Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.

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