AMHERST — From dorm rooms to the dining hall, Sweet Briar College has seen an influx of art installations.
The new Living with Art initiative aims to share art from Sweet Briar’s permanent collection with students, offering them the option to select a piece to hang in their on-campus living quarters. Similarly, Sweet Briar has tapped into its decorative collection to spread more art around campus.
The plan to share art across campus was announced by SBC President Meredith Woo this summer in a letter to students, detailing plans to brighten the Sweet Briar campus with art in the fall semester.
“I want visual art to be a major part of the Sweet Briar experience for each student,” Woo wrote over the summer. “I believe a more proactive display and use of artworks in all residence halls — in your rooms and in the parlors — will add depth to your education outside of the classroom.”
The pieces were prepared for distribution by faculty members and Whitehall Framing in Amherst, which secured the artwork in frames and behind UV ray-resistant Plexiglas for protection. Approximately 35 students — of roughly 300 at SBC — selected artwork to display in their rooms.
SBC art professor Laura Pharis noted some students were apprehensive about having a piece from the permanent collection in their rooms and did not participate. Others filled out loan forms ensuring the safety of the pieces, which are insured and mounted using “double security hangers” for stability.
Overall, more than 100 pieces were hung around campus, said Pharis, who worked with fellow art professor John Morgan and a student worker to prepare the collection for distribution.
“It’s amazing to have a quality piece of art in your room as a student,” said Jules Sudol, a senior Sweet Briar art history and business double major from Scottsville. “They were just put up over Thanksgiving break, so that was a really lovely thing to come back to school to.”
Sudol selected the piece “Hands Etching” by English artist Francis Seymour Haden. As an art student interested in print making, she said she was inspired by the piece and liked its simplicity.
Kimberly Colbert, a senior art history major from Williamsport, Maryland, who worked as a student intern to prepare the collection to be framed and hung, has reservations about artwork being shared in student housing. Colbert, who declined to participate in the Living with Art initiative, said she’d prefer to see the collection used for teaching, not for decoration.
“I feel like this makes the entire collection be seen in a more decorative sense, rather than being seen as a substantial thing to enhance your education,” Colbert said.
According to the Sweet Briar website, more than 3,700 pieces are in the college’s art collection.
“As a visual artist myself, I’m so curious [about the collection],” Pharis said.
Sweet Briar’s art ranges from well-known artists such as Salvador Dali and James Abbott McNeill Whistler to more contemporary pieces acquired in recent years. Artwork not on display in the Sweet Briar museum, galleries, dorm rooms, or other buildings, is stored in Solander boxes for safekeeping.
“If someone wants to take my work out of a drawer, after I’ve been dead for 500 years, and put it up in a student’s room, I would be delighted,” Pharis said. “I imagine all of these [artists] would be.”
The Living with Art Initiative was funded by the Sweet Briar Friends of Art organization. Claire Griffith, SBC senior director of alumnae relations and development, declined to release the amount it cost for the framing but said it was covered by contributions from Friends of Art and another donor.
Griffith said the new initiative allows students to celebrate the “legacy of art” at Sweet Briar.
Friends of Art, which has been active since 1937, has purchased a number of pieces for the college’s art collection, though following the school’s near closure in 2015, priorities have shifted. After Sweet Briar nearly closed due to financial concerns by a previous administration, Friends of Art moved away from acquiring pieces each year and now focuses on funding student opportunities. According to its newsletter, Friends of Art funded two summer internships for students at $2,500 each, and three individual $500 prizes for writing, studio art and multidisciplinary art projects.
Artwork on loan to students will be collected as the school year ends in the spring, and students will be allowed to select a piece to display in their dorm rooms for the next school year at the start of the fall 2018 semester.
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