Amid the diverse collection of art works in Meem Library is a piece that is quintessentially St. John’s: a sculptural rendering of Book I of Euclid’s Elements sited in the very center of our main reading room. This striking work was the gift of multimedia artist and St. John’s College alumna Nichole Miller, a graduate of both the undergraduate (SF06) and Eastern Classics (EC14) programs. For current students and for the more than five decades worth of Santa Fe undergraduate and graduate alumni who have themselves had the personal experience of slowly working through and demonstrating the propositions of Book 1, the sculptural accomplishment of this work is clearly evident from their own first-hand knowledge of the intricate network of geometric relationships that lies behind it. This is because each proposition (the number and an image of which appears on its own individual block) is connected within the sculpture both to all of the propositions it relies on and also to all of the propositions that rely upon it.
In Nichole’s own words:
The three-dimensional flow chart of Euclid’s first book of propositions is based on the relationships of the propositions…The actual relationships between the propositions are indicated by the metal rods connecting them….The four additional rods (which are attached to the corners of the wooden base) do not have any significance other than their adding support to the structure….The levels are determined by calculating the quantity of relationships each proposition has with the others, building from the bottom of the flow chart to the top (those with the greatest number of relationships are at the bottom, progressing to those with the fewest at the top).
Not unsurprising for any who have pondered the creative and technical challenges that went into this piece’s creation is the suggestion by one mathematics scholar that this particular sculpture, completed in 2003, may in fact be the very first three-dimensional dependency graph ever made of Euclid’s Book 1.