“Did you even know where the old art gallery was?” Art History teacher and Gallery Curator Lydia Hemphill asked. A large number of students, both then and now, would reply, “No.”
When the Charles P. Russell Gallery in the old Memorial Building basement, Ms. Hemphill said that during openings “people would often swing by the hallway and grab some cheese and crackers and not come into the gallery.”
The new von Auersperg Gallery sits visibly in the west end of the Hess Center, its glass walls allowing even the people outside to catch a glimpse of the art on display.
“I’m excited that people are aware of the gallery, have been there, know where it is, walked by it and are interested to see what’s in there next,” Ms. Hemphill said.
Although The Fire This Time was an immensely successful exhibition this year, attracting Deerfield’s attention and sparking dialogue related to MLK Day, many students don’t know about Deerfield’s own art collection, some of which was displayed in the gallery earlier.
Named the Charles P. Russell Collection, it was given to Deerfield in 1960 by the Russell sisters, who lived in Greenfield. Since they collected for their own homes, the collection included smaller pieces. Thus, many pieces were brought into the Manse, which now holds the works of some notable artists including Childe Hassam, an American Impressionist painter; and Robert Henri, leading figure of the Ashcan School of American realism.
The rest of the Russell Collection consists mainly of portraits, including the famous artist John Singleton Copley.
“They’re not amazing examples of the famous artists’ works,” Ms. Hemphill admitted. “They’re very nice, but it’s not artwork that says ‘let’s have an exhibit of portraits every year.’”
Deerfield occasionally has lent its artwork to institutions such as the Guggenheim Museum in Spain for particular exhibitions. Currently the rest of the collection is stored in an alarmed space under the Blackbox Theatre.
Ms. Hemphill said that the next shows in the gallery will be a contemporary tapestry exhibit, followed by an exhibition of both current and former Deerfield art teachers’ works.
In the spring of 2016, Deerfield will host an invitational show for peer schools on the theme of “unconventional beauty,” featuring both student and professional work, organized by visual arts teacher Tim Trelease.
With the tremendous improvements in both visibility and awareness of the art gallery, the goal now is to have as much integration with Deerfield as possible.
Ms. Hemphill said, “The pressure is on—in a really good way—to design and have shows that really draw students’ attention.”
She continued, “You can’t get obsessive about it, though, because it takes a lot of work to integrate. But if we can have one big show a year that has a real community educational tie-in, and then other interesting shows throughout the year, it’s really exciting.”