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One Last Thing

In Search of the Chrinitoid

One alum’s devotion to a memorable campus icon

By Tom Payne ’86

Photo from 1974 Transit
My wife thinks I am obsessed. Bordering on crazy. And when I get e-mails from other alumni, she thinks they are a little off as well. “What is it with you RPI people and that statue!?”

First of all, it’s not a statue. It’s a sculpture. And secondly, it’s not just any sculpture, it’s the Chrinitoid!

Officially known as “Two Rectangles, Vertical Gyratory Up, Variation III,” this George Rickey masterpiece stood in the center of the RPI campus from 1972 until the summer of 1984. There was a brief obituary in the Polytechnic that September. “The Chrinitoid, a sculpture created by former Rensselaer Professor of Architecture George Rickey, has been the subject of much discussion amongst students and faculty. The sculpture was first erected 12 years ago and was removed this summer.”

Thus began my search for the beloved artwork. OK...“beloved” may be a stretch. The Chrinitoid seemed to be the constant subject of a love/hate relationship. As with my wife, there was a great percentage of the campus that simply didn’t “get” the simple elegance of two huge slabs of aluminum being tossed by a gentle breeze. I am sure there were many students and faculty who were happy to see it go. But for the rest of us, it left a huge gap in the middle of campus that remained empty, the threaded bolts protruding up from its installation site a constant reminder of what was no more.

Fast-forward 10 years or so: I was standing outside the recently renovated San Francisco Public Library, when out of the corner of my eye I noted something oddly familiar. Twisting around in the breeze were several pieces of polished aluminum. On the plaque below the mass of metal was the name of the artist. “George Rickey” didn’t really strike a note, but the sculpture was familiar. I was heading into the library anyway, so I might as well look up this Rickey guy. It turns out that George Rickey was quite a prolific artist. His specialty was indeed kinetic sculpture. And he once taught at Rensselaer!

It’s likely that my visit to the library was in 1998. Intrigued by my encounter, I headed home and did what any other red-blooded RPI alumnus would do... I searched the Internet. Sadly, I only found two references worth noting:

One was from an online copy of the infamous Not the Rensselaer Handbook: “Chrinitoid - n. (RPI) Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory Up, a kinetic metal sculpture which was lent to the Institute by the sculptor, George Rickey, a professor at RPI from 1961 to 1966. Often confused with meteorological equipment on the Science Center. Although gone, it may be coming back.”

The other was a picture from Steven Staton ’85’s “WRPI Memoire” Web site. Neither was much to go on, but they did inspire me to develop my own “In Search of the Chrinitoid” Web site. Over the years, it got a couple of hits. Most of them came from people similar to me… just doing random Google searches and my page happened to come up.

One day last February, I got an e-mail from a non-RPI Rickey fan who stumbled upon my site. He is a collector of Rickey sculptures and pointed me to Birgit at the George Rickey Workshop. I had never heard of this place, but it certainly sounded like an excellent place to start another phase of my search…

Birgit was a fountain of Chrinitoid knowledge. She advised me that Mr. Rickey had recently passed away. She remembered the sculpture and more importantly, she knew where it was! The sculpture had been purchased by the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS) in 1990.

A little more research led me to UBS’s corporate Web site and references to their extensive art collection. I took a random chance and filled out one of those “Contact Us” forms, never expecting to hear back from anyone. Much to my surprise, just two days later I got a very friendly letter from Dominik Saam, head of public events and culture for UBS. Indeed, he did know of the sculpture and told me it was in front of their Schanzenbrücke-Building in Zurich.

Well, I never appreciated New York City’s grid street structure quite as much as when I tried to find the “Schanzenbrücke-Building” in Zurich. Not wanting to bother Mr. Saam, I hit the Web again. I am quite impressed with Europe’s online mapping software. Eventually, I found references to the building, made some guesses and found the street… or strasse… which is now home to the Chrinitoid. And in another stroke of luck, while UBS didn’t have any pictures, the Zurich Board of Tourism did!

I have not yet been able to make the trip to Zurich myself. I had a friend visiting Switzerland and he took some pictures. As for you, please accept my invitation to visit the Chinitoid on the Web (http://www.paynecentral.com/tompayne/chrin/). If you do get to Zurich before I do, please drop us all a note.


Tom Payne ’86 is a district sales manager for Autonomy Inc. in New York City.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in March, June, September, and December by the Office of Communications.

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