Returning BYU alumni may be surprised to discover the Tree of Wisdom has disappeared—at least, it has disappeared from its site south of the Spencer W. Kimball Tower. A quick search, however, will find this symbolic sculpture only a stone’s throw away in a new location just south of the David O. McKay Building.
Replanted for the third time, the Tree of Wisdom was originally located north of the Harold B. Lee Library where it was erected on July 15, 1975 by the Paulsen Construction Company. Two months later, on September 18, student body officers presented the sculpture as a gift commemorating the university’s centennial anniversary.
Constructed from 10 vertical, curving concrete panels, each five inches thick, the sculpture was designed by Frank Nackos, a part-time faculty member and BYU alumnus. It was one of two presented to the university; the other was Frank Riggs’s Windows of Heaven, a 30-foot-tall structure located between the W.W. Clyde Engineering Building and the John A. Widstoe Building.
On July 29, 1996 the university uprooted and moved the 14-foot-tall Tree of Wisdom to a location south of the Kimball Tower in order to provide room for the expanding library. It stood in that location for 15 years before workers razed it on October 29, 2011. The original sculpture had become structurally unsound through years of natural wear and tear, according to Todd Hollingshead, a media relations manager for University Communications.
At the time of its demolition the university already planned to rebuild it. University officials decided to reconstruct the sculpture in a new location to create more room on the lawn for future campus activities.
Nackos designed the Tree of Wisdom to symbolize “both the planting of spiritual roots and the blossoming towards godliness,” according to a 1975 article published in The Daily Universe. With such symbolism, the Tree of Wisdom will continue to stand as a physical representation of the school’s values, remaining deeply rooted in BYU’s tradition and heritage no matter its location.