‘Meet me at the Bunny’: The history of the iconic campus statue
“Meet me at the Bunny!” said no one ever, except maybe your SOAR leader.
Though “the Bunny” might not be as popular of a meeting spot as the First Year Center wants you to believe, it is still one of the most beloved art installations on the Danforth Campus.
The Bunny statue holds a special place in the hearts of generations of Washington University students, but, because of its long-standing presence in the community, many students are unaware of the full history of “the Bunny.” So, here it is.
The 12-foot-tall statue arrived on campus in April 2001. Though it quickly became referred to as simply, “the Bunny,” the statue’s actual name, given to it by Welsh artist Barry Flanagan, is “Thinker on a Rock,” a satirical take on Auguste Rodin’s famous piece, “The Thinker.”
A renowned artist worldwide, Flanagan was especially known for his various statues of hares, and created “Thinker on a Rock” in the early 1980s.
Although the Bunny may be a unique and iconic feature of Wash. U.’s campus, it is actually not the only statue of its kind.
Wash. U.’s famous bunny has three exactly identical friends installed around the world. The other “Thinker on a Rock” statues live hops away in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C, in John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park in Des Moines, Iowa and in Neude Square in Utrecht, Netherlands.
The Gateway Foundation, which works to foster creative and artistic presences in St. Louis, offered Wash. U. the statue along with a $15 million donation in early April 2001. The University’s Art Collection and Program Committee actually sent two delegates to Washington, D.C. to view one of the other installments of “Thinker on a Rock” before deciding to accept the long-term loan of the statue.
“As long as we appreciate it, the statue will remain here,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton told Student Life after the University officially accepted the statue.
However, not everyone appreciated it at first.
A Student Life opinion poll published on April 6, 2001 revealed that an overwhelming 77 percent of students disliked the Bunny, which was also referred to as “the Rabbit,” “the Hare” and “Nibbles.”
“I hate it. It’s so ugly. I would try to walk around campus just so I can avoid seeing it,” said class of 2001 alum John So in response to the poll.
Extremely critical op-eds flooded Student Life in April 2001, with blatantly harsh headlines such as “Rabbit Statue is Insipid” and “Don’t Meet Me at the Rabbit.”
“Putting this rabbit up is like putting an enormous ‘kick me’ sign on our university’s back. Instead of the nickname, ‘Harvard of the Mid-west’ (or as the kids from Harvard call it: ‘Where?’), we will be called, “Bunny idiots,’ ‘Craptastic Rabbit Nerds’ or even, ‘Pinko-commie bastards,’” class of 2002 alum Conor Waddell wrote for the April 6, 2001 issue. “We have the rodent for ‘as long as we appreciate it,’ which should read, ‘as long as it takes us to deface it.’”
Regardless of students’ incredibly vocal discontent, the Bunny stayed, and has become an endearing symbol of campus culture.
Over the following years after its installment, students began decorating the Bunny in observance of university events, such as pajamas for finals week and a cap and gown for Commencement. A cappella group The Stereotypes dressed the Bunny in a tie and sash to promote its upcoming concert in 2012.
The statue donned a red and white knit sweater that same year when a student began to create seasonal clothing for the Bunny. Student organization Kuumba TV created a hilarious anonymous profile of the student, referred to as the “Bunny Yarn Bomber,” in 2014.
“I’ve heard people say that they don’t like the statue and they think it’s creepy, but they think it’s nice if it has a sweater on. And, usually when the sweater goes off, it starts to look really awkward and naked, which is interesting,” the Yarn Bomber said in the Kuumba TV video.
However, not all of the Bunny’s decor has impacted it so positively. Students woke up April 17, 2010 to find the rock atop which the “thinker” sits to be covered in blue plastic wrapping after it was defaced with gold paint the prior evening. The statue was soon restored by a professional art conservator.
Whether clothed or naked, the Bunny remains a striking presence at Wash. U., both physically and figuratively.
The statue played a large role in many current Wash. U. students’ first experiences on campus, as “Behind the Bunny,” during which Student Orientation Advising Registration (SOAR) participants ask student leaders their most pressing questions about the student experience, is one of the most memorable and impactful aspects of the SOAR program.
The existence of SOAR’s “Behind the Bunny” is eerily reminiscent of a satirical prediction made by class of 2002 alum Pat MacDonald in his 2001 op-ed, “Don’t Meet Me at the Rabbit.”
“Can we expect to see Orientation activities around it next August? Will Liggett/Koenig RAs drag their floors to the fun “Rally Round Rabbit?” MacDonald wrote.
Nevertheless, the Bunny prevailed, regardless of the disdain it once provoked in the hearts of dissenters.
Now just imagine what they’d think of “The Rings.”