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A Renaissance in Benches

Let the bench wars begin!

This may be an age-old phrase heard on East Campus, but this year's rivalries seem to have taken on a different and much more artistic shape. Walk around East Campus and you will stroll past benches sporting replicas of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel murals or a child's story book.

Typically, to express dorm pride, freshman deface each others' benches by tipping them over, carrying them off or spray-painting over the initial design. But this year, the competition has evolved from these more destructive measures into a one-upping artistic competition.

So far, the freshman dorms that have climbed onto the artistic band-wagon include Alspaugh, Giles, Pegram and Bassett.

Alspaugh's flame-covered "Hot and Steamy in the Spa" design was the first to show an extensive effort on the part of all its residents. "We tried to do a design contest, but it didn't really work because the original designs were too detailed," said freshman Catie Liken, a member of Alspaugh's house council. "We wanted to involve everyone so we simplified the design."

A common theme heard among the dorms is simply that they wanted to get together and take the time to create a good bench. Their efforts show they care about their dorms and have pride in where they live. "We're getting to be a pretty close dorm, and we just wanted to show our dorm pride," said freshman Erin Harper, an Alspaugh resident.

Giles followed Alspaugh's lead and created its "Where the Wild Things Are" bench. Giles resident and freshman Meredith Clements explained that some people in the dorm knew they had a very artistic resident, Georgia Richter, and thought it would be a good idea to enlist her creative services. "She had to outline everything and in the beginning it was just a few people [painting the bench], but in the end it got so crowded that you could barely squeeze in to paint," Clements said.

Next came Pegram's version of the "Creation of Adam" section of the Sistine Chapel with its theme, "And then there was Pegram."

"We felt a little shame, so we had a big debate about what to do," said freshman Andrew Steinman, Pegram president. "Now it's nice to have something we can all be proud of."

Pegram residents explained that it was not without some conflict that they arrived at their final theme. "Originally house council had a big controversy with the first theme we thought of," freshman Whitney Evans said, referring to a phrase that was suggested in the planning process: "Pull my finger." After house council members questioned their dorm-mates about possible theme, Evans said, "Finally we were just sitting around when someone thought of [a phrase to fit the mural] we knew we wanted to do."

Not to be outdone, Bassett entered the fray, and played off of Pegram's theme with its own colorfully pointed statement: "And now there is Bassett."

The freshman who put their time and efforts into this year's benches are hopeful that it will help put an end to the more destructive wars of years past.

"I think most people will probably be pretty respectful," said freshman Carrie Able, the primary artist of the Pegram bench. "I don't think they'll paint over it, but they might flip it over."

And the extra effort put into the benches has raised the stakes of the rivalry as the freshman threaten severe repercussions for any damage done to the benches.

"I don't think people will be inclined to deface [the benches], but if they do, there will be serious war," Clements said.

Some freshmen added an alternate motivation behind their creative benches: a general promotion of the arts around campus.

"Ours was a group effort that worked out nicely and I do feel proud [sitting on the bench], but the main reason I helped out was a push for more visual arts at Duke," said freshman Joel Sholtes, a Giles resident.

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