Collections Spotlight: Save Our Sparty!

13 07 2017

Jungwirth sculpting the Spartan

MSC art professor Leonard Jungwirth sculpting the Spartan statue in 1944 [A001440]

One of the most recognizable landmarks at Michigan State University is the Spartan statue. Professor Leonard Jungwirth sculpted the original awe-inspiring Spartan from terra cotta starting in 1943.  Bronze was considered preferable but was not obtainable due to the war.  Over the years, harsh Michigan winters and vandalism caused the formation of cracks in the statue and other damage.  By 1987 it was apparent that the Spartan required significant restoration.  In 1988 a S.O.S. went out to Spartans everywhere – Save Our Sparty!

The Save Our Sparty campaign’s goal was to raise $75,000 for restoration spearheaded by Robert W. Pingle, a sculpture conservator.  The project included repairing the cracks and damaged joints, reversing the discoloration (a greenish hue caused by vandalism in the form of maize and blue paint), modification of the sculpture’s core to allow for expansion, new coating of paint (for easier cleaning), and a mold and plaster cast of the Spartan. Additionally, money was budgeted for site improvements, such as shrubbery, lighting, plaques, and renovating the statue’s base.

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Restoration and site beautification took approximately one year to complete.  A rededication ceremony was held on September 30, 1989.  Honored at the ceremony were Irene Gayas Jungwirth (the widow of the Spartan sculptor Leonard Jungwirth), George Alderton (Lansing State Journal sports writer who selected the Spartans nickname), and Walter Adams (former MSU president and economics professor).

George Alderton and Irene Gayas Jungwirth at the rededication of the Spartan statue, 1989 [A005901]

A new collection of papers and photographs documenting the Save Our Sparty (S.O.S) campaign is now available to researchers at the MSU Archives.  MSU Physical Plant (now IPF) employee Vince Vandenburg, who was a member of the S.O.S. committee, collected the materials.  The collection was originally kept in five binders, labeled “Photographs of Sparty Restoration 1988,” “Sparty,” “Spartan Warrior Casting 1989,” “Photographs of Sparty Restoration 1989,” and “Sparty Newsclippings 1989-1990.”

Robert Pringle inspects the Spartan, 1988

Robert Pringle, sculpture conservator, inspecting the Spartan statue for the first time, 1988. [A006561]

“Photographs of Sparty Restoration 1988” includes dozens of color photos of Pringle’s initial inspection of the Spartan, close ups of the damage, fundraising efforts, the restoration process during August-October 1988, vandalism to the statue in October 1988, and an August press conference featuring MSU President John DiBiaggio, Robert Pringle, Irene Gayas Jungwirth, and George Alderton.  Newspaper clippings about the launching of the S.O.S. campaign are also included.

The Spartan vandalized with yellow paint during the restoration in October 1988 [box 5803, folder 9]

“Sparty” consists of S.O.S. committee working papers, such as work orders, correspondence regarding the project’s development and progress, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings about project progress and fundraising efforts, information about Robert Pringle, and a letter from Irene Gayas Jungwirth with information about the Spartan’s creation and her husband’s career.

Irene Gayas Jungwirth letter

Letter written by Irene Gayas Jungwirth to Vince Vandenburg, September 28, 1988 [box 5803, folder 12]

As the name implies, “Spartan Warrior Casting 1989” contains photographs and information about the casting of a plaster replica of the statue by Robert Pringle.  There is also a copy of the “Sparty Statue Conservation Final Report” from Pringle, dated November 20, 1988.

“Photographs of Sparty Restoration 1989” contains photographs of the rededication ceremony, and of the renovations to the area around the statue.  Also included are newspaper clippings about the rededication ceremony, and correspondence from Irene Gayas Jungwirth.

Finally, “Sparty Newsclippings 1989-1990” has newspaper clippings documenting the success of the S.O.S. project, information about the layer of protective paint that added to enable easier cleaning, and several articles about vandalism in 1990 and the efforts to prevent future incidents.

Cast of the Spartan’s head wearing a fashionable hat [box 5803, folder 15]

Those who would like to view the Save Our Sparty collection are welcome to visit the MSU Archives’ Reading Room during our research hours: The inventory for the Physical Plant Records is available online:

For more information on the history of the Spartan statue see: “The Spartan Statue and his Creator,” written by Jennie Russell


Written by Megan Badgley Malone, collections & outreach archivist





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