The College's old gymnasium was renovated in 1982 and rededicated as the Emil R. Weiss Center for the Arts, which is now home to The Trout Gallery.
The importance of the fine arts collections at Dickinson College is well known both to those who fostered the establishment of The Trout Gallery and to those who have benefitted from its diverse program of exhibitions, lectures, and demonstrations. But that resource, which college and local communities have now come to take for granted, was not always available. Whereas donations of art began before the mid-nineteenth century, it took nearly 150 years to find a permanent home for their care and display on the Dickinson campus. The history of collecting and displaying works of art at Dickinson is an interesting one, and it deserves a brief summary here. In 1836, Commodore Jesse Duncan Elliot, commander of the USS Constitution, wrote to the Trustees of his alma mater to inform them that he wanted to donate a cabinet of "coins of gold, silver, copper, brass and lead," as well as several "specimens of antiquity." Where they were originally exhibited is not known, but we do have evidence that by 1846 the burgeoning collection of art was probably housed together with natural phenomena and scientific specimens in the museum that was part of the new science and library building (appropriately enough, on the site of the present Weiss Center). Later, the objects were divided according to subject, with most of those of scientific interest going to Althouse (the rest went to the Smithsonian) and those of artistic interest going to Bosler, where they remained in large part until 1982.1
By mid-century, the faculty submitted a proposal, summarized by President Charles Collins in his annual report to the Trustees, to found a "gallery of Portraits, to embrace all the old Presidents and Professors, from the days of the venerable Nisbet .... Such a collection when completed will be a treasure to the College." This portrait gallery, which forms the core of the hall of presidents (completed c. 1960, with regular additions) and the hall of trustees in Old West, must have derived from donations of money or works of art, for Collins reassured his trustees that the paintings would be "procure[d] without cost to the College "-- every administrator's dream. Although the portrait collection began as an inexpensive proposition to honor "noble men," the results were quite impressive. Works by members of the Peale family, John Jarvis, and Thomas Officer are still to be found among those early donations.2
After this remarkable flurry of activity and enthusiasm for the fine arts collections in the nineteenth century, there were few lasting initiatives to found an independent home for them. Yet, despite the physical limitations to store and display the art, important donations continued to be made: substantial gifts of prints from the Carnegie Foundation in the 1920s, Mrs. Grace Linn in the 1950s, Meyer P. and Vivian Potamkin from the 1950s to the present, and Charles Coleman Sellers in the 1960s; European decorative arts and Asian art from Mrs. Lloyd Gamble Cole in the 1960s; and the foundation of the African collection from Charles Myers and the Joseph Gerofsky family in the 1960s and 1970s, respectively.
It was not, however, until about 1963 or 1964 that any rumblings of a proper museum were heard. At that time, Associate Professor and former chair of the Fine Arts Department Donald Gordon proposed:
... it is felt by the members of the Art History department that there should be a continuous display of art exhibits located in such an area of the campus so as to stimulate general student interest and be a service to ... the Humanities .... thus paving the road for a second longer-range program--the housing of a permanent collection of art on the Dickinson campus .... 3
The first prong of Gordon's two-part program did not succeed within his tenure; a regular, if uneven, series of temporary exhibitions was established only in the 1970s. Professor Michael Danoff, ably assisted by his colleagues Dennis Akin and Eric Weller, curated a number of contemporary exhibits in the Holland Union Building: Marky Bulwinkle (1971), Mauricio Lasansky (1972), Wayne Thiebaud (1973), and Mel Ramos (1973). At approximately the same time, Meyer and Vivian Potamkin, together with then president Howard Lane Rubendall and members of the Fine Arts department, organized an exhibition of the Potamkin collection in honor of the bicentennial of the founding of Dickinson College (1972-1973). Additionally, there were shows curated by students, such as Appreciating Abstract Expressionism (1973) and Original Prints by Marc Chagall (1973). This last practice laid the groundwork for the institution of exhibitions curated by students in the art-historical methods class, a project initiated by Assistant Professor Carra Ferguson O'Meara. In 1975, the students presented The Carnegie Collection of Prints. It was followed in 1977 by two shows: The Gerofsky Collection (April-May) and Prints in the Dickinson Collection (December). From that point forward, a regular schedule was established: Architecture in Carlisle before 1900 (1978), Nineteenth-Century Prints (1979), What is Art? (1980), The Human Image: 20th-Century Prints (1981), and A Selection of Landscapes (1982).4 In the list of exhibitions that follows the catalogue, it is clear that the process is now institutionalized: both the students and our audience anticipate the show as a sign (as well as a rite) of spring. And we are grateful to the members of the art history faculty who have kept that tradition alive by serving as advisers to those enterprises.
In the meantime, the Fine Arts faculty had been pressing for a new home base, one that would provide improved facilities for the teaching of art history and the practice of studio art. The story of the founding of the Weiss Center for the Arts, though essential to the ideation of The Trout Gallery, will be addressed in other events and publications during this anniversary year and will thus not be treated here. What is essential to our story is that while the old gymnasium was being renovated in 1982 and rededicated to trustee Emil R. Weiss, Ruth Trout (class of 1936) and her sister Helen came forward to found an art gallery in honor of their father Brook. With the assistance of the architectural firm Spillman and Farmer and president Samuel A. Banks as well as of the members of the Fine Arts faculty (Sharon Hirsh, Barbara Diduk, and Dennis Akin), a plan was developed to incorporate a museum-quality space into the ground and first floors of the new arts center. This gallery would provide up-to-date climate control, security, lighting, display, and storage facilities for an already impressive collection that approached 5000 items. Further, the new space was meant to accommodate a changing schedule of temporary exhibitions.
The programs that took place during that inaugural year still seem daunting: the gallery opened with the largest retrospective ever organized of the work of ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu in conjunction with the presentation to her of the college's arts award in March 1983; it was followed immediately by a one-man retrospective by California artist Wayne Thiebaud (April-June); and during the summer a student intern organized an exhibition of portraits from the permanent collection. In the fall, new director David Robertson and members of the Fine Arts department borrowed a contemporary ceramics show that originated at Wooster College; organized a mini-exhibition of original illustrations by Maurice Sendak in conjunction with a library-sponsored symposium on the art of the book; produced an exhibition and catalogue for the first homage to alumni and friends; celebrated the founding of the gallery; and were still able to open the art-historical methods show concerning the Bible and Twentieth-Century Art by late November. (See the exhibition list that follows.)
Such prodigious undertakings are the sign not only of a dedicated and energetic department, but also of a supportive administration and an enthusiastic group of fine arts majors; together they provided the impetus that propelled The Trout Gallery through its first decade. It is in fact this unique cooperative and collaborative effort on the part of the gallery and the college that has set Dickinson's program apart from other university museums. In Dean George Allan's remarks during the dedication ceremony in 1983, he stressed the "integrative" role of the gallery in a liberal arts education, words that are still fundamental to our mission statement. First, the gallery--which brought, housed, and displayed fine art on campus--was meant to be part of the daily life of students, staff, and faculty. Second, the changing exhibition schedule was intended to complement and support the curriculum (for example, courses on Etruscan art and history would coincide with the exhibit of Etruscan pottery curated by Professor Mary Moser). Last, the permanent collection, which President Banks called a visual parallel to the verbal repository of the library, would be a "microcosm of the achievements of the human spirit."4
The first decade of the gallery's history has borne
fruit in every area in which time, talent, and resources have
been invested. Thanks to the generosity of donors and friends,
the collection has grown by nearly twenty percent, a fraction
of which is now on view. Endowments, such as those established
by Ruth and Helen Trout and Henry and Donna Clarke, for special
programs and operating costs have enabled us to undertake important
exhibitions, publications, lectures, and symposia. At the same
time, as the gallery's reputation grew so, too, did our ability
to be taken seriously by prestigious federal and state granting
institutions such as the Institute for Museum Services, the Pennsylvania
Council for the Arts, and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.
With the increased activities of the gallery, we have added positions
for a full-time registrar/exhibition preparator and a community
outreach coordinator. The former has increased the efficiency
and record-keeping of collections management (all of which is
now on-line) as well as improved the aesthetics of the presentation
of works of art. The latter has taken our temporary and permanent
collection exhibitions to a much wider audience, from pre-schoolers
to senior citizens, from home schoolers to G.E.D. classes, tripling
attendance figures along the way. Both of these programs are now
so active that we employ a small army of student assistants who
gain valuable experience while learning the responsibilities of
the professional staff.
During the first ten years the collection has grown
by about one thousand objects, thanks in large part to the generosity
of our donors, a circle that has expanded considerably since the
inception of the college's collection over 150 years ago. Nonetheless
that group is still paced by the gifts of, on the one hand, long-time
alumni supporters like the Potamkins and, on the other, parents
and friends like the Gerofskys (now joined by Joseph's brother
David and his wife). To the first group belong Henry and Donna
Clarke, Eric Denker, Eric and Christine Lacy Drake, Barry and
Irene Fisher, Mr. and Mrs. William P. Lincke, Dr. Larry and Mrs.
Jean Daniels Rankin, David Rilling, Emil and Tamar Weiss, Col.
and the late Mrs. R. Wallace White, and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Zug.
In addition, the gallery has benefitted from the joint alumni
gifts from the class of 1982, The Mary Dickinson Club, The Washington
Alumni Club, and the Friends of Andrew Muller (class of 1986).
To the second group belong Mr. and Mrs. Philip Berman, Donald
Goodyear, Professor Julius Held, Peter Horn, Mr. and Mrs. Harry
Kahn, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Neuberger, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Rosenberg,
Eleanor Conway Sawyer, Ms. Mary Mclnroy Sheffer, Joseph Weniger,
Ms. Carolyn Wyeth, and Lawrence and Carol Zicklin. A related category
should also be developed for faculty donors who, following the
important example of Charles Coleman Sellers, now include professors
emeriti Dennis Akin, Milton Flower, Ralph and Martha Slotten,
as well as current professors Cyril Dwiggins and David Robertson
(now Loyola University, Chicago). We commemorate here the significant
contributions of now-deceased donors Professor Donald Flaherty,
as well as Sara L. Rowe, Sarah Lamberson Watkins and Thomas W.
Watkins. Finally, the Gallery has also made occasional acquisitions
with its own funds in order to fill in gaps in the permanent collection.
Peter M. Lukehart, Director
of The Trout Gallery (1991-2001)
excerpt from the introduction to the exhibition catalog, "A Decade of Giving", 1993
The Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. til 4 p.m., and is closed Mondays and during installation periods (between shows) and school holidays.
Call 717-245-1344 or 717-245-1711 for more information.
To arrange for group tours and educational outreach programs, contact Wendy Pires at 717-245-1492 or 717-245-1344.
The Trout Gallery
The Trout Gallery, Dickinson College
P.O. Box 1773, West High Street
Carlisle, PA. 17013
Phone: (717) 245-1711
The Trout Gallery receives support from the Ruth Trout Endowment and the Helen E. Trout Memorial Fund; additional funding for special projects comes from the Henry D. Clarke, Jr. Foundation for the Arts.