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Memories of SSU

Walter Benson

Bacon and Eggs Sculpture

 

Student, 1969

(Condensed from “Bacon and Eggs: Demystified” by Susan Kashack, Sonoma Insights, Summer 2004)

“Urban legends stand tall and they weather the test of time, much like the art piece called Bacon and Eggs, that sits between Stevenson and Darwin halls. The story goes that the structure represents the United States flag: the front red and white representing the flag in peace time; the back is black and white representing the flag at war. The blue piece on the ground symbolizes a star that has fallen from the flag.”

So begins Susan Kashack’s article on the prominent sculpture that highlights the space between Sonoma State’s first two academic buildings. She goes on to tell the true story, following an interview with its creator, published in Sonoma Insights issue of Summer 2004, and excerpted here with the permission of Ms. Kashack and Walter Benson.

Walter “Spike” Benson says, “That’s not what it is. It’s nothing. Just a structure that I designed and built with the help of a class I took here. As far as I’m concerned it was never named. You guys named it and I think that’s quite a compliment. And then when you combine it with Toast, that is performance art and it is super. I’m very proud of that fact. I’m very pleased.” (Aptly named Toast is the small hut in the vicinity of Bacon and Eggs where drinks and sandwiches are sold.)

Spike took just one class at Sonoma State, and from it emerged Bacon and Eggs. Back in 1969 he would pass Sonoma State on his daily trek from his Mill Valley home to the development he was creating which became Bennett Ridge. Spike: “I’m a land developer and builder, starting in 1950 in Sausalito. Working with construction crews, 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’ve got to have creative outlet.” He decided to sign up for a course in sculpture and selected Bill Morehouse’s Monument Sculpture class.

During the class, each student created plans for an outdoor monument somewhere in the county. Spike created a 30-foot structure out at Bennett Ridge. “We all looked at each other’s work. Somehow or other somebody decided that a monument project could be built on campus. The students who suggested it didn’t have the money, but being a successful land developer I did, and there it is.”

To erect a 60-foot structure on the public university campus involved making a presentation to the California State University Board of Trustees in Long Beach. The whole class, headed by Spike Benson, drove to Southern California to address the board. “They had two basic questions for us: was it a phallic symbol of some kind and was it vandal proof? We met with the then-chairman of the Board of Trustees, Gov. Ronald Reagan, and Willie Brown who was Speaker of the House at that time. After those two fiddled around for hours and hours, I was asked to describe this thing that was proposed for the Sonoma State campus. I said the base was blue and the front was red and white and the back was black and white. They approved the silly thing and the next year we had a class in monument sculpture. There were 10 or 12 students who came out and built it. I financed it. My CPA said, “What are you doing?” I told him, “You’ll never get it but…” Spike said the whole project cost about $6800.

Spike had two requirements for the structure: that it be taller than the surrounding buildings (“I don’t know if it is or not; I don’t know and I don’t want to know.”) and that the blue piece at the bottom encroach on the concrete. He credits Bill Mabry and George Smith of Buildings and Grounds at SSU, and their boss Wes Burford, as being very helpful. Participating students included Susie Schlesinger, Tom Anderson, and Ted Macklin, the latter a film major who filmed the construction.

Ever careful of construction details, Spike came back to campus frequently for a few years to pinpoint where rainwater puddled on the blue section of Bacon and Eggs. “Wherever there was a puddle, I’d drill a hole.” At the time of the article, there were ten holes and no puddles.

Spike sums up the experience: “I came to Sonoma State and learned something about sculpture in the Art Department. I built that thing because I had the money and none of the other students did. I’m sure their work was equally as handsome. But what I learned from Sonoma State working with the environmental people here, was how to do a form of progressive, performance art. I built that into my developments. The B.A. I earned at Amherst where I spent four years didn’t teach me anything about land development or building and really little about sculpture. But I do think Sonoma State taught me about how to develop land intelligently, as a performance art. That’s what this thing is. It encroaches on the concrete so you’ve got to walk around it or you can sit on it, so it’s performance. It is a compliment that people talk about it, and Toast is there now. That’s what I learned at Sonoma State: how to do that in my profession, which is land development. So I thank Sonoma State.