Art in the Wild

A look at Washtenaw Community College's "Gateless Gate"

"Gateless Gate" by Paul D. Zenian at Washtenaw Community College.

As a student at Washtenaw Community College, I occasionally wondered about the story behind the large metal shapes leaning into each other near the school’s main entrance. Day after day, I took in the sculpture’s dominating presence as I passed it on the way to WCC’s Student Center. Standing 22 feet high, it’s hard to miss. In their book “Public Art in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County,” Martha Keller and Michael Curtis describe it as looking like “two irregular dominoes.”

To me, it just seemed like two giant rectangles propped up against one another, their meaning an abstract mystery I never bothered to solve.

Paul D. Zenian created the “dominoes” — titled the “Gateless Gate” — for the campus over two decades ago. According to Keller and Curtis, Zenian taught at WCC for 25 years before his retirement in 1994. The piece’s inscription explains that he intended for it to symbolize the “door to education” WCC offers.

Up close, observers might note that one rectangle is taller than the other, leaning on one edge. The shorter of the two appears precariously balanced, with only one corner in contact with the ground and one corner resting against its larger counterpart. The sculpture’s dark brown surface – the piece is made of Cor-Ten steel – seems smooth and sturdy, although dull orange patches at its base show evidence of its age and exposure to the elements.

Zenian’s artwork stands at the center of an open area, which at this time of year is filled with islands of grass, trees and brightly colored tulips. Students sit talking on their cell phones at tables topped with bright yellow umbrellas as the Gate towers over them.

According to Keller and Curtis, the Gate displays a minimalist style, using simple shapes to convey meaning. The triangular gap between the two elements of the sculpture appears narrower to those approaching it from the street than it seems to those approaching it from the college. This shows that while the gate to knowledge stands open to everyone, the doorway is open even wider for those who have completed their education.

The plaque for Paul Zenians Gateless Gate sculpture.

The plaque for Paul Zenian's Gateless Gate sculpture.

Helen Nevius attends Eastern Michigan University and is a former student at Washtenaw Community College. She is an intern with The Ann Arbor Chronicle.


  1. By Shirley Bartrum
    May 20, 2009 at 7:21 am | permalink

    I always thought they represented books for a learning institution.

  2. July 6, 2009 at 9:27 am | permalink

    Gateless Gate now graces the new WCC homepage as well: