Christmas is coming, not merely in the form of myriad decorations
springing up around campus, but in a new exhibition at the Saint Vincent Gallery as well. with a bang on Founder’s Day, November 16, garnering 190 visitors. It will remain up throughout the Christmas season until January 7.
The exhibit consists of 18 images selected from the Saint Vincent collections. They range from the early 1600s to the past century, and stem from nations as diverse as Italy, the Netherlands, and the United States.
Two were completed at Saint Vincent — one painted at the now-defunct Saint Vincent Painting School in 1896, and the other from Fr. Vincent Crosby, O.S.B, who runs Archabbey Studios at Saint Vincent.
“He is world-renowned as a creator and designer of liturgical vestments,” said gallery director Br. Bernard Cline.
The Saint Vincent collections include both the archabbey collection and the college’s holdings. The archabbey has about 2000 works of art. At the core of that collection lie nearly 200 paintings donated by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in the 1850s. It’s thought that many ultimately stem from monasteries suppressed following Napoleon’s invasion of Bavaria in 1803.
The college collections, on the other hand, have been assembled in the past 60 years, and include a sizable number of more modern artists, such as Matisse, Chagall, Picasso and Renoir. Local paintings from Pennsylvania artists are included as well.
The present gallery was opened in 1986 to replace an old rifle range in the basement of the Carey center, which served as an exhibition space for a number of years. The modern display area helps provide a more suitable environment for the collection, which has led a precarious existence at times in the past — some pieces were even damaged in the 1963 fire.
Nevertheless, high-quality storage space is still lacking for many paintings.
“We do not have adequate storage for the paintings. They have not been stored correctly over the past 200 years,” Cline said.
But new storage areas will be included as part of the upcoming library renovation, he explained.
At present, though, many paintings, even those in the special exhibition, show considerable signs of wear and aging. The gallery maintains an Art
Conservation and Restoration Fund to ensure the maintenance of the collection for future generations, but funding has been insufficient.
“The cost to repair old paintings is between eight to ten thousand dollars.
There has not been a concerted effort to raise these monies,” Cline said.
He explained that the paintings currently displayed on the red wall of the gallery have been restored, but many others are still waiting in line for funds.
Freshman philosophy and theology major Phillip Tran visited the exhibition at the Founder’s Day opening. He was impressed by the way many paintings presented a truly human image of the Madonna and Child.
“The one thing I did notice is how intimate a lot of them were. It showed in a very beautiful way the ordinary life of the Virgin and Child. One painting showed Mary in the middle of breastfeeding Christ. That was the one thing that I remembered the best. Because obviously it happened — that’s how you take care of your child. It shows forth the glory of family, and it’s something that we should not be scandalized about. It’s something that is surely very close to the heart of God,” he said.
Tran thinks the Gallery offers benefits to the entire Saint Vincent community, including those students who perhaps aren’t particularly interested in art. And he believes the faculty can play an important role in bringing the artistic resources of the various Saint Vincent collections to all students.
“For example, my theology professor, during our fourth hour freshman seminar, took the class to see the coverlets [in the coverlet gallery of the Fred Rogers Center]. I probably wouldn’t have seen it otherwise or known about it otherwise, really. So at least to make these things more accessible, but also to help give some sort of formation in helping them to understand the significance of having a balanced and true liberal arts education, especially since we have so many good resources here on campus that are within walking distance,” Tran said.
Cline agrees that more should be done to encourage student visitors. “A lot of folks don't know where the gallery is,” he said. “I think gallery visits should be included on campus tours, and we could also use the space as a concert venue, which I've been working on."
Photos: John Wojtechko