Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, January 3, 2005
From This Issue
Volume 82 • Number 3
Winter 2005

Keeper of the Collection
Trout Gallery’s director helps keep commitment to fine art
Phillip Earenfight became director of The Trout Gallery in 2002, replacing Peter Lukehart, who had been director since 1992. The gallery, housed in the Weiss Center, opened in 1983. It is named for Brook Trout, father of the late founding donors Ruth ’36 and Helen Trout. (See note on page 39 about recent estate gift from Ruth Trout.) Earenfight spoke early in the fall with Sherri Kimmel, editor, about the gallery’s current initiatives.

In the two years that you have been here what specifically have you worked to change?
We have been wanting to shed light on the permanent collection and to give it greater prominence in terms of dedicating a space, specifically for that, for a couple of reasons. It is a good collection, and greater attention on it tends to foster its development. One can imagine donors not being as forthcoming with their collections if they feel that the pieces aren’t going to be used year round. Now, that being said, few museums have more than about 3 to 5 percent of their collections on display at any one time.

Depending on what is being offered in the courses on campus in art history and in studio, we try to select pieces that would complement what is being taught so that the permanent collection has a direct relevance to the courses. Most college museums or galleries start out doing temporary shows and, as their collections grow, they make a transition from being a temporary exhibition site to a combined temporary and permanent collection exhibition site.

How large is the collection we have here?
We’re approaching some 6,000 works. The bulk of it is works on paper, and that’s typical of more recently founded museums. We are strong in West African sculpture; that’s the result of a few key donors. We’re beginning to develop a good photography collection, which is an area we can develop rapidly because it’s undervalued.

Do you get most of your new pieces through donations or through acquisitions?
The vast majority is through donations. We are working on defining the direction that we would like to see the collection grow. Given that we are donor dependent, for the most part, you can imagine the breadth of the collection. When we accept a gift, we do so with the understanding that we are stewards of that object in perpetuity. And that is a large responsibility, and it requires a great deal of expense in terms of storage, proper surveillance of the object, maintaining the proper conditions, documenting it and its condition and making certain that it lasts as long as it possibly can under the best of circumstances. It is imperative that we maintain a very responsible collection policy so that we acquire only those pieces that we feel best suit our needs and direction. Rather than try to do everything, I want to do certain things particularly well and make that associated with our institution.

It’s surprising that, with the long history of the college, it wasn’t until this summer that we finally got a public sculpture, the Benjamin Rush statue.
There are a number of schools that have a more developed collection of public sculpture, and I think that, given the beauty of our grounds and the public accessibility, because we are in the middle of a main street, this is an opportunity for us to explore. The Benjamin Rush copy was an important step forward, and I’d like to further develop along those lines.

What are some of the more significant pieces you have in the collection?
The Henry Moore statue stands among the key works that we have. Given its position within the history of modernism, and Henry Moore’s career, it’s extraordinary. Another significant work is the Rodin statue of John the Baptist. In terms of teaching, it is great for students to have access to those two pieces, because they provide them with a particularly good example for formal analysis of how to assess and study sculpture, particularly small-scale sculpture.

People are drawn to The Trout Gallery for the wonderful collection in the museum-quality space you have here, but there are some other aspects for which the gallery has won accolades, like The Outreach Program. Do a lot of college galleries have this kind of extensive program for the community?
The Outreach Program sets us apart from a number of our peer institutions. It represents a commitment to the community, but it’s also a commitment to the gallery as well. Between 50 and 75 percent of our audience comes through as a result of The Outreach Program (see sidebar, page 36). It is ironic; one would think that the college population would be the bulk of our audience, and that is not true for us, nor is it true for most college museums.

You’ve recently received a grant to bring art historians here to speak.
Yes, that’s from Eric Denker [’75, a Friends of The Trout Gallery Board of Advisors member and curator of Prints and Drawings at The Corcoran Gallery]. It is a pilot project to bring in scholars of significance to augment the activities and scholarship that students are performing here. The aim is to create a scholarly set of lectures that will provide the kind of experience that our students need to be exposed to, particularly if they’re going on to professional careers in museums and art history.

What are some of the exciting initiatives you have planned for 2005?
Primarily we’re working on digitizing the whole collection and getting it online. That is a major public initiative. We have about 5,000 to 6,000 pieces to photograph and enter into our database. In five or six years, we [should be] at a stage where everything is fully accessible online. It’s important for researchers and scholars to know what we have. It’s important for community access. We have schools that are interested in using our collection, but they do not know what we have. So the further we make that better known, the more likely people will come to see the permanent collection in conjunction with the temporary shows.

As far as temporary shows go, what do you have coming up this spring that would be good for alumni to come see?
There are always the two shows that are student driven, and they have a strong connection to the alumni. The January/February show is the art-historical methods [student-curated] exhibition, which is drawn from our permanent collections. Alumni will see some of the pieces that they have given to the college in that show. There is the studio show in March/April where [one] will see the work of our current graduating seniors. In between the two there is another link for alumni—the sabbatical exhibition by Ward Davenny [associate professor of art]. Those who knew Ward when they were here will have an opportunity to see his current works, which are based on his tornado chasing in the Midwest. It will be a multimedia show of charcoal drawings, digital photographs and video projections. (See page 22 for more on Davenny.)

Are there any long-range plans you’d like to mention?
We are hoping to develop a more permanent space for The Outreach Program to operate its programs. We have the program, we have the staff, we have the classes coming to participate, but we are working in an environment which is less than suitable. When it involves activities such as painting or print making, in which the students are taught how to produce prints or objects, they have to do so in the lobby of the Weiss Center. What we’re trying to do is to identify a classroom space that would allow The Outreach Program to conduct its classes in a proper classroom setting. The challenge, of course, is that the Weiss Center is a very full space. Hopefully we’ll be able to identify and produce space to serve these needs in the near future.

 


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