There’s a new sculpture, placed in October 2022, welcoming the Ethical Culture Fieldston School community to the Tate Library! Reading Dog was sculpted by Jay Lagemann ’62 and donated to the School after a fundraising campaign by the Class of 1962. We spoke to Jay about his path from learning bookbinding at Fieldston Lower to studying math at Princeton and MIT to creating sculptures that allow him to share his joy and happiness with the world. 

Two alumni stand in front of a green sculpture of a dog holding a book
Jay Lagemann ’62, left, and Bob Levy ’62 at the unveiling of Reading Dog 
What is a favorite memory of your time at Fieldston?

Hans Hollstein, Math Department Chair, taught me for three years when I was at Fieldston Upper. When we were 9th Graders, he’d show us the problems he had given the seniors and have us solve the parts we could with our limited skills. Then Hans would explain how what we would learn in the next few years would allow us to solve more and more of the problems. By the time we were learning calculus, we were already familiar with it. It was a very rewarding feeling to see how we were getting stronger. It’s because of him that I ended up being a math major and getting a PhD in math from MIT. He made math fascinating — a wonderful, intellectual sort of exploration. 

What was your path into creating art, and what is an important lesson you learned along the way?

After getting my doctorate, I went to a mathematics conference at Cambridge University. I had been studying abstruse, abstract mathematical logic with absolutely no useful application, and I realized that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with this knowledge. I had saved up about a year’s salary while working at IBM throughout college, so I decided to travel and write a book. After getting into ocean sailing and racing, I came back to New York, where I met my future wife and daughters. Our first date was for the four of us to see Alexander Calder’s sculpture Circus. Not long after, while babysitting one of the girls, we ended up recreating the Circus trapeze with figurines made from wire coat hangers. It was so much fun making that, and I’d say that’s when I became a sculptor. 

When I ran out of money, I got what was supposed to be a one-day job on the movie “Jaws 2,” but I ended up working on the movie for six months, including with the special effects team. One thing I learned in special effects that stayed with me is that when you’re doing something special, it’s probably not going to be easy. You come up with a lot of ideas and a lot of them don’t work, but you don’t need to succeed the first time, the second time, even the 10th time — you just need to succeed once. It’s a great way of thinking about life — to know that each time you fail, you learn something new. 

How did Reading Dog come to live in front of the Tate Library?

For my 45th and 50th Princeton reunions, I made and brought down tiger sculptures to march in the P-Rade with our class. People loved the tigers, and they added to the festive reunion atmosphere. So for my 60th Fieldston Reunion, I brought two sculptures — Jitterbug Dancers and Reading Dog. It came up at the Reunion how Reading Dog would be great in front of the Tate Library, and my friend Bob Levy ’62 volunteered to help raise the money to pay for it. Within four days, enough money had been raised to reimburse me for the costs of the sculpture, with all the extra funds being donated to the School. I didn’t want to make any money from this — it’s an honor to have my sculpture on the campus, and it’s more important to raise money for scholarships. I was a financial aid student, and I know what a difference it can make in a child’s life. 

When we placed Reading Dog in October, I noticed that there was student artwork on display behind where the sculpture is. I hope they’ll continue to add more, because Reading Dog loves company!