Artist: Paul Theodore Granlund
(American, 1925-2003)

Location: Noyce Science Center,
west entrance
Granlund, Alpha and Omega Sundial, 1990



Campus Sculpture Tour

Paul Theodore Granlund


Cast bronze with brass gnomon
? x 142 x 126 ¼ inches
In Memory of Harriet M. Gale by the Class of 1939 and Friends

An ingenious three-dimensional construction, Alpha and Omega Sundial serves many functions. Carefully designed, it achieves its most obvious function—the brass portion of the gnomon may be adjusted to read the local sun time. More than acting as a sundial, the piece also clearly labels the cardinal directions. In addition, the sculpture creates an informal entrance area for Noyce Science Center; surrounded by low, curved concrete benches, the piece becomes the center of a sitting area for students studying or pausing between classes. It also acts as an interesting transition between Alumni Recitation Hall and Noyce. From the area of the sundial, the two buildings sit in opposition to one another, each representative of distinct disciplines—the sciences and the humanities. The sundial builds a physical connection between the tools of language and the tools of science, referring to the Greek roots that influenced both fields.

Alpha and Omega Sundial, however, consciously moves beyond its Greek roots to illustrate the role of science in many cultures: various numerals from many societies embellish the sundial. Artist Paul Theodore Granlund carefully chose these numerals to reflect each time zone across the globe. As he said during his dedicatory remarks, he made this embellishment “So that when one wants to know the time, one will also have global thoughts of other cultures and other times in history.” And so, Alpha and Omega Sundial tells us not only our current time and location, but also refers across years and miles to represent other places and times, both ancient and contemporary.

Engraved directly into the Alpha and Omega Sundial is its title, along with its latitude, longitude, and elevation. These facts, along with its functional purposes, allow it to act as a strong visual marker for the science building. This seems fitting, as it is a gift in memory of Harriet M. Gale, wife of the late Grant O. Gale, professor of physics at Grinnell from 1928-72. These specific notes about location also relate to its original placement. Though it has been relocated twice due to construction—never far, however, from its first site—Alpha and Omega Sundial’s original location marked the site of the college’s heating plant chimney. Surveyors used the chimney as a geodetic marker, as it was a landmark visible for miles; their notes about the chimney’s location—made circa 1916—helped to determine important facts about the sundial’s positioning. The sundial now expands that tradition, acting as a functional and aesthetic landmark.

For Granlund, the project was expansive as well. “This project turned out to be a bit bigger than I originally envisioned,” he said. “A lot more figuring—more welding—more sweat—but well worth it for that first AH-HA—that cutting into a circle and finding an end, an omega and then the alpha—the place to begin.” As part of the sundial, alpha and omega, signals of beginning and end, showcase the cycles of the sun. As Granlund explains, “The beginning and ending letters of the Greek alphabet are used metaphorically to signify the extremities of various phenomena, including time.” A sculpture that intertwines beginning and end, past and present, Alpha and Omega Sundial functions as both tool and text, observer of and observed for the passage of time.

About the Artist: Paul Theodore Granlund was sculptor-in-residence at Gustavus Adolphus College from 1971 until his retirement in 1996. His artistic career spanned more than fifty years and 650 pieces. Granlund graduated from Gustavus in 1952, and won a George C. Booth Scholarship to attend the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. There, that he received an M.F.A. in 1954. Also a teacher, Granlund taught at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and was a visiting artist at University of California-Berkeley, Washington University- St. Louis and Cranbrook, his alma mater. An accomplished artist, he won both Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships to study sculpture in Italy. Granlund primarily worked in cast bronze, and more than 30 of his bronze sculptures dot the Gustavus campus. He also has pieces in Peace Park, Nagasaki, Japan, and the State Capital in Saint Paul, Minn.

Essay by Christine Hancock ‘06


Telling Time by the Sundial

by Professor Grant O. Gale

If the sundial (slit) does not agree with your watch, don't blame the sundial, blame the sun. Due to the eccentricities of the solar system, sundial time (solar) and clock time (E.S.T.) may be off by as much as 25 minutes!

The sundial is mounted on a North-South plane on the 92° 43' meridian, with the gnomon, the stainless steel strip, parallel to the earth's axis, i.e. pointing to the earth's geographic pole (the North or pole star). The angle of elevation of the gnomon is the angle of latitude, 41° 45'. These angles were determined by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey about 1916.

The elevation of 1095 feet is based on a bench mark in the Northeast corner of the porch of Goodnow Hall. This was placed in 1932 by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Grinnell is the highest place on the Rock Island Railroad between Chicago and Omaha.

The seasonal monthly changes will be indicated by the length of the noon shadow indicating the angle of elevation of the sun; long shadows in the winter, short in the summer.

Sun time and standard time (not daylight saving) differ for several reasons. One is a constant difference due to our position in the time zone. The other is a seasonal difference due to the fact that winter days are longer than summer days.

Our Central Standard Time is determined by the 90° meridian which runs roughly through Madison, Wisconsin and St. Louis, Missouri. The time zone, which is 7 1/2 degrees on each side of the meridian, is about 750 miles wide at our latitude. Arbitrary zone borders are set by the states and determined by state borders and local and commercial considerations. Through Iowa this is essentially from just East of Chicago to Ogallala, Nebraska.

Since each 15° represents an hour, each degree of longitude is four minutes. At our longitude, 42° 43' (i.e. 2° 43' west of the 90th meridian), sun time is nearly 12 minutes behind standard time.

A more subtle and irregular difference between sun time and standard time is due to the eccentricity of the earth's orbit, making winter days longer than summer days. In devising the calendar, the lengths of days were averaged, making a "mean solar day." Other features of celestial geometry complicate things still further resulting in corrections called "the equation of time," adding or subtracting as much as 15 minutes, depending on the season. The sculptor has used a design from Sundials, by Frank W. Cousins to fabricate the gnomon which can be turned, the curved images of the slit reflecting these seasonal corrections.


Sculpture Home
About the Artist
Locate on Map
Printable Map


Telling Time by the sundial Notes by Grant O. Gale
Sources of the
sundial numerals
Notes by the artist
 last updated 5/25/06  
Copyright © 2006 Grinnell College     Grinnell, Iowa 50112