They sit in a large room at West Virginia University: paintings, sculptures, prints and various other works of art waiting for a chance to be seen.
No one knows when the art collection at WVU started, but over the past 40 years WVU alumni and friends and sometimes complete strangers have entrusted their art to the University to treasure long after they have gone.
The works include portraits of Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Easton by William Merritt Chase, mixed media, folk art snakes formed from tree limbs by Oscar Spenser, Asian ceramics. A few famous personalities have works among the collection: Picasso, Lichtenstein and Warhol.
The international collection spans countries and disciplines. Although the artwork is mostly wrapped up and put away, there’s a definite African presence of more than 300 separate pieces. And there’s a particular waft of Provincetown on Cape Cod from the largest public collection of Blanche Lazzell’s works.
The art collection, that numbers nearly 3,000 works, will soon have the chance to be seen more frequently as pieces rotate through The Art Museum of WVU.
The museum, now in the final stages of design, will live on what is now a grassy field beside the Creative Arts Center in Morgantown.
Yes, it’s important to have that scientific knowledge, but for true innovation, you need an intersection of arts and science. The person needs to have learned how to be creative and how to think outside the box. How do you measure the importance of design? Someone designed the original iPod. Someone designed other elegant technology. That technology could arguably not have had the same impact if not for the artistic aspect of it.”
-Valerie M. Wright
Registrar, The Art Museum of WVU
In a time when museums across the country are facing financial difficulties and increasing limitations, this project demonstrates WVU’s commitment to providing a complex educational experience to its students and the region, says Museum Director Joyce Ice.
The heart and soul of the museum, its art, is already enriching the learning on campus. Robert Bridges, curator of the WVU art collection and the Museum, and Registrar Valerie M. Wright, study and manage the collection, trying to give students and faculty a meaningful experience of the works they see every day.
“The collection is very broad,” he said. “Because I’ve worked with this collection for years, I’ve had a chance to research various pieces and appreciate the quality, the strength and various techniques that went into each. I am excited to share these pieces to a wider audience.”
“I think there are layers to many of the pieces, and I appreciate them on different days for different reasons,” Bridges said. “If I’m talking to a print making class, I could show the students a number of pieces that express important print making techniques or that are historically significant for depicting changes in the medium.”
Mauricio Lasansky’s piece is one he’d reference for prints and one that he did cover recently in Art up Close!, a public showcase and discussion of a piece in the collection.
“Robert and the museum staff have been trying to exhibit up-and-coming artists or artists that were previously under-recognized. The intent is to turn a spotlight on these artists and demonstrate why they deserve more reflection,” Wright said.
She says the collection is for the region, yet not always of it. Blanche Lazzell, a noted print maker who was part of the Provincetown movement on Cape Cod, was originally from West Virginia. But the works span the world.
But not everything in the world, Bridges said. The collection won’t be all things to all people. It won’t even be all kinds of art.
Ice said the museum is actively collecting in four main areas paintings, prints, ceramics and sculpture to build on the strengths of the collection and the strengths of WVU’s studio art programs.
The talk on campus these days is about research, innovation; those changes in the wind that bring jobs, affluence, better lives.
To art museum staff, the museum’s development is rightfully a core part of that charge.
“Yes, it’s important to have that scientific knowledge, but for true innovation, you need an intersection of arts and science. The person needs to have learned how to be creative and how to think outside the box.
“How do you measure the importance of design?” asked Wright. “Someone designed the original iPod. Someone designed other elegant technology. That technology could arguably not have had the same impact if not for the artistic aspect of it.”
That exposure is already happening and the collection is available to classes, students and professors. Sure, art history students can look at works for projects. But people at WVU whose title has no connection to art at all have bolstered their own work and the museum’s through art.
Art gives us a glimpse of what was important to people, what bothered people, what gave people joy. It helped them to express their deepest emotions and address situations of their time. I think all of that enters into forming a more well-rounded individual and a better society. It contributes to the quality of life.”
Director, The Art Museum of WVU
Jane Donovan, a professor of religious studies at WVU, was able to trace the backstory of an African timqat piece in collaboration with Professor Tesfa Gebremedhin, who is from Ethiopia and works in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. They were able to identify the artist and village depicted that hosted the Christian ceremony of timqat, equivalent to the western church’s Epiphany celebration.
“Art gives us a glimpse of what was important to people, what bothered people, what gave people joy,” said Ice. “It helped them to express their deepest emotions and address situations of their time. I think all of that enters into forming a more well-rounded individual and a better society. It contributes to the quality of life.”
Because art is universal, you never quite know what anyone will get out of it. But Bridges imagines lots of possibilities.
“You’re unlimited with audience,” he said. “Anyone can come in and respond to the work. We’re hoping that through our educational programs we can attract the engineering students, medical students, business students, and any student throughout the University to see the art work and begin to think a little bit more about the creative process; the human condition which allows people to think about things and then create something that’s truly original.
“And that’s what art is all about.”
Beyond what the University community and the public will gain from viewing the art, they can participate in educational events to come and those already being held.
So far, the museum has hosted an inter-disciplinary teaching institute for middle and high school teachers to use art in their classroom instruction, which will be offered in 2012 on the topic of cultural change (with funding from a WV Humanities Council grant), as well as future Art Up Close! programs.
Once the building is in place, the museum will offer a wider range of educational activities, including tours for K-12 classes.
Though the University’s students, faculty and staff will benefit from the museum, so will the surrounding area.
“Once WVU has an art museum, the experience will really enhance visitors’ experience of the University,” Bridges said. “I envision the museum changing the whole idea of leisure in Morgantown. I could see people visiting the art museum before a football game or before a basketball game.”
The museum is currently being designed by the firm Stanley, Beaman & Sears out of Atlanta. The firm has done design work on the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia and the Erma Byrd Biomedical Research Center near Ruby Memorial Hospital.
Find the museum on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ArtMuseumofWVU.
By Diana Mazzella
CONTACT: Joyce Ice, The Art Museum of WVU
Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.