The modernist David Hayes

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

“Reclaiming our nature” is the theme of the new Notre Dame Sculpture Park, and a painted steel sculpture by David Hayes ’53 makes a perfect addition to the site, says Charles R. Loving, director of the Snite Museum of Art. Recently acquired by the Snite, Hanging Screen Sculpture #18, like Hayes’ others pieces, is inspired by nature.

“I find it very charming as it looks like a spider dropping out of a tree branch — albeit quite a large spider,” says Loving, who calls Hayes “one of Notre Dame’s most successful artists.”

Five other Hayes sculptures are displayed at the Snite — the most prominent, Griffon, stands as a sentinel in front of the museum. An early work, the hammered-copper piece Tongues of Fire, resides on an outside wall of Moreau Seminary.

Dean A. Porter, former Snite director, once said Hayes’ pieces have “an organic quality about them, like plants springing from the ground, erupting in unpredictable shapes.”

ND Mag Slideshow-David Hayes Sculptures – Images by Notre Dame Photography

In April, just a couple months before members of Hayes’ graduating class met for their 60th reunion, the 82-year-old artist died of leukemia. In his honor, the Snite hosted a Hayes exhibit from late May to mid-August. Organized by his eldest son, David M. Hayes ’75, the exhibit included the Snite-owned sculptures and three others, including the one which was then purchased by the Snite.

Although his father was quite ill for several months before his death, says his son, “He kept working right up to the very end,” generally doing some drawings.

That came as no surprise to those who knew him. “My father was enormously productive,” says David. He and his brother, Brian, once inventoried the family’s Coventry, Connecticut, sculpture fields, where more than 400 large pieces are on display. (For information on visiting the fields, see

And more than 100 of his works can be found in institutional collections, from the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York to Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.

John D. Rockefeller purchased a Hayes sculpture for his Westchester County, New York, home, Kykuit. The Hayes’ piece joined those of David Smith, under whom Hayes studied while earning an MFA at Indiana University, Bloomington, and Alexander Calder, whom Hayes visited while he studied in Paris under a Fulbright award and Guggenheim Fellowship. “He was very much a part of 20th century Modernism,” says Loving of Hayes. The artist was also a great conversationalist, adds Loving, deeply interested in all types of music, theater and different schools of art.

Hayes’ fellow artist Richard A. Byrnes ’54 writes about their 63-year fellowship in “The art of friendship: David V. Hayes” (see related articles).

Carol Schaal is managing editor of this magazine.