The Sitting Man of Iowa City

After 33 years living in Iowa City, Iowa, Sena and I finally trekked up Scott Boulevard to see Sitting Man, or Man on a Bench, or the Buddha of Iowa City. Whatever you call him, he’s steady as a rock, which is what he is—110 tons of limestone and 20 feet tall. He was carved by Douglas J. Paul and J.B. Barnhouse and finished in 2013. It was a monumental challenge to move him from the east side of Scott Boulevard to the west side in the summer of 2020 after a change in property ownership. He sits on land owned by Harvest Preserve.

He had an old hornet’s nest booger up his nose, which actually tends to support the idea of him being some kind of Buddha. You have to be pretty serene to put up with that.

Before you get to the Sitting Man, you reach a contemplative space called the Visionary Stone. The inscription on it is about Dee Norton. According to his obituary on the web, Dee W. Norton was Associate Professor of Psychology and former chair of the Department of Psychology at The University of Iowa. In 1991, he received the Michael J. Brody Award for Faculty Excellence in service to The University of Iowa. He was a longtime member of the Unitarian Universalist Society. He made numerous contributions to education and the community. He had a pretty good sense of humor, too.

I learned more than I thought I would on the journey to the Sitting Man. On the back of the sculpture is an inscription of a prayer, which is dedicated to Paramahansa Yogananda, founder of the Self-Realization Fellowship Church, which I had never heard of or read about when I scanned the web trying to learn more about the Sitting Man. I briefly looked at the website and there seems to be an Iowa City Meditation Circle here, although only an email address is listed (iowacity.srf@gmail.com) and I don’t know what the fellowship is all about in any detail.

There may be more than meets the eye when it comes to a limestone giant with an old hornet’s nest up his nose and a hand open in what is probably a gesture of welcome and acceptance. We could sure use some of this now—minus the hornet’s nest.

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