Landmarks & Legends

The Secret Book: Part Two

By Nancy Spitler
Photography by Josh Wilson

P211.t45 has taken on a life of its own

There’s always risk in public art — risk that the public will find an entirely different meaning than the artist intended. P211.t45, installed in 2001 on Clemson’s campus, has become something totally different than what it was created to be and, even further, something of a Clemson legend.

Created by David Tillinghast, a sculptor who received his MFA from Clemson, P11.t45 is a two-part installation: a 21-foot-tall brick silo just outside of Barre Hall and a book that’s now available only on restricted circulation in Cooper Library. The title, P211.t45, is a Library of Congress call number, and the book was originally shelved by that number in the library, which places it among books about the history of writing.

“The silo and book are linked,” Tillinghast said in an interview with writer Peter Kent for an article in the 2013 Glimpse magazine. “Growing crops led to settlements and a way to record harvests and distribution. … Agriculture is a way of organizing nature in fields and rows. Writing is a way of organizing ideas, experiences and events. Nature, from cells to cities, is organized.”

Embedded in the small silo floor is a bronze disc that reads “P211.t45” in the center, “REF” at the top and “Cooper” at the bottom. When you stand in front of the disc, and look out of the slit in the wall, you now see the Academic Success Center. In 2001, you would have had a direct sightline to the precise location of the book in the reference section of Cooper Library.

Students have dubbed it the “Secret Book,” and a tradition has developed of seniors searching for and signing the book before graduation. In some ways, it has become a literary rendition of a bathroom wall, full of notes, signatures, ticket stubs and advice for future students. Librarians have had it rebound and have added additional pages. Now, patrons must ask for the book at the circulation desk and are limited to a two-hour checkout.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, Atelier InSite, a Creative Inquiry project that implements public artwork on campus, developed a virtual way to sign the secret book. Fall 2021 brought back a more normal library experience, and students once more were able to search for and sign the book before graduation.

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