The Houghton House Renaissance
by Joshua Unikel '07
For decades, the Colleges have been steadily building a remarkable and evergrowing collection of art, ranging from the Realism of the late 19th century to the Abstract works from the end of the 20th century.
"The Collections of Hobart and William Smith Colleges is truly remarkable in its breadth and depth, including originals, lithographs, photographs and prints," says Colleges President Mark D. Gearan. "It is a pride point for our entire Colleges community to be able to see pieces from the Collections, like Pro Patria, an oil painting donated by Trustee Chair Emeritus L. Thomas Melly '52, L.H.D. '02, in public spaces throughout campus."
"After seeing the treasure trove of truly profound art owned by the Colleges, I wanted to ensure that pieces from the Collections continue to be seen by both the HWS community and the art community as a whole," explains Dr. George Abraham '59, who has contributed to the restoration and reframing of art works from the Collections. "With works of such a high caliber, there's a tremendous amount of artistic value, historic relevance and teaching potential in having these pieces on exhibition throughout campus."
The Collections, which is comprised largely of gifts from private collectors and pieces of historical significance to the Colleges, includes works from the Theodore Max Collection, the Welsh Collection of Contemporary Art, the Kenneth Halsband Collection and the Robert North Collection.
"Experiencing art is vitally important to one's own personal experience as well as the experience of all things visual," says Robert "Bob" North, husband of the late Marion de Mauriac North '32, HON '82, who has donated more than 100 important works to the Collections in honor of his wife.
In addition to North's generous contributions, Theodore "Ted" C. '50 and Melva Max '50, P'78, P'80 donated one of the College's most prized pieces: a chalk lithograph with brush and spatter of Henri de Toulouse Lautrec's 1893 work, "Divan Japonaise."
"After having the lithograph in our personal possession for 25 years, we decided that it needed to be seen by other people," says Theodore. "Although we still enjoy the piece, we feel that art should have a wide availability and reach a wide audience."
Explaining his contribution to the Collections, William E. Welsh Jr. P'84 says that, "For my late wife and I, it was important to make a contribution because our daughter, Mary Jane '84, was an art history major." The couple added to the late 20th century portion of the collection with 46 silkscreens and lithographs, including a lithograph of Sonfist's renowned "View of Manhattan."
And thanks to another alum, nurseryman Clarence "Dave" Davis Jr. '48, these and other donated works will soon be featured in a professional-grade gallery. Davis' generous contributions will fund the upcoming renovation of the existing gallery space within Houghton House, which will subsequently be renamed in his honor.
"It's my hope that once the gallery is completed, it will stimulate an interest in art and set an example for others to make gifts in support of the arts," says Davis. "Someday I hope that Hobart and William Smith will have an even more extensive art collection and a dedicated art museum to host it. I think that when people see the renaissance going on at Houghton House, they'll want to get involved."
Answering Davis' call, a group of HWS faculty, staff and students are proving that there?s no better time than the present to advance the arts.
This spring, several significant pieces from the Collections were framed and put on display in "Moments in Time: Lithographs from the HWS Art Collection," a 21-piece selection of lithographs. The exhibition is the result of efforts by Kathryn Vaughn, the Colleges' visual resources librarian, Patricia Mathews, professor of art, and five HWS student-interns.
The exhibition includes chronological highlights from the Collections' full historic spectrum. Exhibition-goers can expect to find everything from 19th century works, such as Henry Walton's lithograph of "Hobart Free College," to 20th century works, such as James Rosenquist's "Sailor ? Speed of Light."
"As we started talking about pulling together this show, we thought it might be nice to feature lithographs to teach our art students as well as our campus community about a form of art reproduction that most people know little about," says Vaughn.
However, Vaughn and Mathews agree that the exhibition offers more than a background on lithography. In their eyes, it has intrinsic value as an exhibition of art. "Actually seeing a piece of art has so much more impact than looking at it in a book or talking about it in a class: it's a major part of the liberal arts curriculum," says Mathews. "Having our own exhibitions on campus is also a great way for art students and non-art students to experience art as it is seen in museums."
Vaughn agrees, explaining that the Collections are first and foremost a teaching tool with an interdisciplinary focus. In the future, Vaughn and Mathews envision exhibitions of the Collections dedicated to global studies, environmental studies or women's studies.
"The two great Rosenquist pieces hanging in the Rosensweig Learning Commons are visible reminders of the quality of art that the Colleges have in its Collections," explains Emily Sarokin '10, one of five students who helped research and exhibit "Moments in Time." "I'm excited that this exhibition will display even more of these kinds of works on campus."
Alums Behind The Art
Clarence "Dave" Davis '48
Occupation: Nurseryman and Founder, Queen City Garden Town Nursery, Buffalo, N.Y.
Renaissance Contribution: Renovation of the existing gallery space within Houghton House and a future endowed chair in the visual arts.
Initial Artistic Interest: "I've always seen the visual arts as a natural and important part of our culture."
Artful Fact: Though Davis never studied art in its classrooms or viewed paintings on its walls, he remembers attending co-ed dances in Houghton House, then a residence for William Smith women.
Dr. George N. Abraham '59
Occupation: Professor, University of Rochester Medical School, Cancer Center, Rochester, N.Y.
Initial Artistic Interest: "One of my patients was a famous D.C. gallery owner. He encouraged me to start collecting and sold me my first pieces, helping me build up a core of early 20th century master prints."
Renaissance Contribution: The restoration of numerous unframed lithographs and prints as well as several original pieces, including the work of Rosenquist, Rauschenberg and Johns.
Artful Fact: He purchased a Degas etching from Bader for $99 and a Whistler from Vincent Price.
Robert "Bob" North
Occupation: Retired Librarian, Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, Buffalo, N.Y.
Initial Artistic Interest: "My father was an architect professionally and a painter. It was his influence that inspired me to study art history at Harvard and continue to keep art in my life, even now at age 99."
Renaissance Contribution: The donation of more than 100 significant lithographs and etchings, including 12 Bellows lithographs, as well as contributions to the restoration of the collection. Artful Fact: He understands great art, first-hand. "My classmates at Harvard and I were required to re-create significant historical works as a way of understanding and experiencing the artist's process."
Dr. Theodore C. '50 and Melva Max P'78, P'80
Occupation: Retired Vascular Surgeon and Former President and Chief of Surgery, St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, Utica, N.Y.
Renaissance Contribution: The donation of one of the Colleges' prized lithographs: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's 1893 work, "Divan Japonaise."
Initial Artistic Interest: "My wife started my interest in art," Max explains. "She studied art in high school and continued her passion by taking classes at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Ithaca."
Artful Fact: Dr. Max and his wife, Melva, donated "Divan Japonaise" during his 50th Reunion at HWS in 2000, which was also their 50th wedding anniversary.
Occupation: President, Investors Realty and Management, Newport Beach, Calif.
Initial Artistic Interest: "I didn't major in art and I've never much painted, but I've always been inclined toward the arts. I still play a bit of classical piano."
Renaissance Contribution: The donation of three paintings, two DeWitt Parshalls and one Douglass E. Parshall (DeWitt's son). All three paintings hang in President Mark D. Gearan's office.
Artful Fact: Scudamore bought the Parshalls for the Colleges after learning that DeWitt graduated from Hobart College in 1885. At HWS, Parshall was known for his caricatures of faculty members and fellow classmates.
Mr. and Mrs. William E. Welsh, Jr. P'84
Occupations: William is a Retired Investment Banker, Senior Partner, Lehman Brothers; Barbara is a Retired Credit Analyst
Renaissance Contribution: The donation of 46 silkscreens and lithographs, including the work of Sonfist, Flack and Rauschenberg.
Initial Artistic Interest: "We've collected a number of pieces based largely on what we liked. Some of the pieces are of great value, and others just have personal value to us because of their look."
Artful Fact: Mr. and Mrs. Welsh have made significant donations to the arts as well as education, medicine and, most recently, child welfare.
The Katherine D. Elliott Studio Arts Center, opened in 2006, is another major part of the renaissance going on at the Houghton House Estate. Funded by a lead gift from Trustee Katherine D. Elliott '66, L.H.D. '08, the building continues to foster the growth and development of the visual arts at HWS. "I, and others, felt that more students could have a great experience in the visual arts if they had more space and a better facility to work in," said Elliott. "I hope that in a small way, my gift to the Colleges will carry on this tradition."
Curating for Credit
Curating for Credit To help curate 21 lithographs for a Houghton House exhibit, Kathryn Vaughn, visual resources librarian, and Patricia Mathews, professor of art, brought in five art students for the job.
Over the past three semesters, Vaughn and Mathews have worked with Barry Samaha '10, Emily Sarokin '10, Diana Haydock '09, Anna Wager '09 and Tim Starr '08 as they wrote catalogue entries and annotated bibliographies, crucial aspects of a professional exhibition.
"The students working with us were asked to research four to six lithographs from the collection in order to compose a catalogue entry as well as an annotated bibliography to be used in the future," says Mathews.
Explaining why he got involved in the project, Samaha says: "As an art history major, I believe that it is better to look at a work directly rather than through a slide. I look forward to sharing these pieces and my knowledge about them with the campus community."
To complement the work done by Samaha and his peers, Anne Wakeman '09 spent a term alongside Associate Professor of Art Nick Ruth in an intensive graphic design internship, producing the show's graphics, including the exhibition's publicity materials as well as a central part of the exhibition itself: a poster explaining the history and creation of lithography.
"The value to these students is tremendous. They've learned an unbelievable amount," says Vaughn. "They've done professional-level work of the caliber you'd expect to see in a museum."
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