Fine, Visual, & Rebellious
One humid, showery evening in August, my wife, Louise, and I enjoyed a walking exploration of the art galleries in the Old City section of Philadelphia. On the first Friday of every month, 40-plus galleries along 2nd and 3rd Streets (between Race and Chestnut) open their doors from 5 to 9 p.m. for browsing, ogling, and immersion. The display of invention and imagination is magnificently impressive—burls of wood sliced to reveal curly patterns made into desks and beds; clay and glass sculpted into teapots, mugs, and fanciful bowls; walls lined with portraits, paintings, photographs, tapestries, and digital prints; jewelry made of colorful metals, gemstones, wire, and wool—to mention but a few of the genres on display. Likewise, the human array of clothing, hair, body decorations, styles, and personas is just as impressive, and made all the more so in streets packed with people of all ages, interests, and ethnicities. (Naturally, I ran into a Haverford alum there!)
One hundred years ago, Haverford College would have reflexively shunned any association with the fine arts. Most 18th- and 19th-century Quakers regarded the arts as dangerously close to the making of icons forbidden in the Bible or, at best, a waste of time that could be better spent doing “good works.” Not until the 1960s were fine arts officially embraced by the curriculum. But, today, the arts thrive here, and we thrive, in good measure, because of them. Emeritus Professor of Fine Arts Charles Stegeman, whose colorful, intricate, and highly symbolic paintings were exhibited in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery a year ago, was one of the first faculty members in this department. Three years ago, Professor of Music Curt Cacioppo performed his piece for piano, violin, and cello titled The Ancestors that was inspired by Stegeman’s painting of the same name. Talk about collaborative artistic efforts!
Associate Professor of Fine Arts Ying Li is every bit as prolific a painter as her predecessor. In recent years, she has painted landscapes of Umbria, Italy (where she was a visiting faculty member at the International School of Painting, Drawing, and Sculpture), landscapes of the green countryside of Ireland, and blue water flowing in Vermont, to name just a few. A gifted teacher, Ying Li is able to find something of value in every student’s drawings and paintings. Her students’ works around themes such as self-portraits, flags of ancestral nationality, and reflections on Sept. 11 have been exhibited in the Magill Library. Ying’s students are also encouraged to write a brief prose piece about their art, again uniting two types of creative expression. And her abstract painting, Sound, inspires me every day from its proud location in my living room at 1 College Circle.
Next time you explore the campus, take a look at the figure of Saint Joan in the pocket garden behind Magill, and the Angel With Nails figure hidden inside the small rectangle of trees next to the Observatory. These sculptures were fashioned by Professor Chris Cairns, who teaches his craft to Haverford and Bryn Mawr students. Watching Chris set a mold and pack it in sand, heat the bronze to fiery liquid, and pour it into the mold readily conjures images of Vulcan’s forge. In recent years, sculpture has caught on so readily at Haverford that following the tragedy of Sept. 11, students, faculty, and friends created a powerful display of hundreds of small clay sculptures titled “The Project for the Lost and Missing”; the resulting creation showed a huge range of themes and emotions and occupied one entire corner in the center studio of the Fine Arts building.
This tour of the fine arts at Haverford would not be complete without mention of Professor Willie Williams, and the extensive historical collection of photographs he has assembled for the College’s teaching and research. The impressive collection also includes Willie’s own studies of houses along the Underground Railroad, the Harriet Beecher Stowe house, and other Civil War-era sites. Recently, we have been joined by Assistant Professor Hee Sook Kim, who teaches printmaking, and whose work, Peace, hangs in my office and every day causes me to think about its subject and what I might do about it.
It’s hard to escape the visual arts in the Haverford environs. In addition to the examples already mentioned, there is a constantly changing exhibition in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery, curated by artist Hilarie Johnston. Diana Peterson, librarian of the Special Collections, chairs the committee that selects the exhibits in the gallery, and has similar artistic influence on the showings in Magill. Diana also catalogs and maintains the College’s entire collection of works of art, which includes many valuable pieces from Maxfield Parrish to Joan Miró to Frank Stella. Even the scientists have joined the fun by creating a changing display of student art in the Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center.
Luckily, my own skills in drawing or painting are so meager there is no public record of any attempts at such expression. Nonetheless, the visual arts animate my existence because they vividly show the range of human imagination and creativity. The arts also demonstrate how wonderfully diverse our world is, and the myriad ways that people express themselves. And the arts allow-in fact, encourage-rebellion from the status quo, conformity, derives a consederable part of its beneficial exercise from flying in the face of presumptions." I'm all for it.