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Recent Gifts to College of Wooster Art Museum Enhance Teaching Mission

UPublish story by John Finn

This Chinese Han dynasty cocoon-shaped earthenware jar is one of the many gifts given to The College of Wooster Art Museum during the past year. (Photo by Tammy Troup)

WOOSTER, Ohio — Three recent gifts — two from private donors and one from a foundation — have further enhanced the teaching mission of The College of Wooster Art Museum (CWAM). The gifts, all received in 2013, have become part of the CWAM’s permanent collection.

“It is very exciting to receive gifts of this variety and quality in one year,” said Kitty McManus Zurko, director of The College of Wooster Art Museum. “Even better, through the generosity of the donors, our students and faculty are already benefiting through their use in teaching, research, and exhibition.”

The first gift is a collection of Japanese and Chinese ceramics given by Jay Gates, a 1968 Wooster graduate and former director of several major museums, including the Seattle Art Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC. Gates’ gifts include several ancient Chinese vessels, five Xixing ware teapots, two scholar rocks, and a group of Japanese Meiji period bottles, bowls, and tea bowls. Rounding out Gates gift is a group of Japanese Ikebana baskets.

“A major advantage of teaching from real objects in a studio art class is that they engage students directly in ways photographs (of such objects) cannot begin to address,” said Walter Zurko, professor of art at Wooster. “Teaching with actual historical objects creates an immediate sensory link between students and the ceramic object that can result in new levels of interest, scrutiny, and understanding.

“For example,” added Zurko, “in viewing an actual Chinese, Han Dynasty (206 BCE – CE 220) cocoon-shaped earthenware jar, and seeing the maker’s fingerprints impressed into the fired clay and sensing the vitality of the fluidly painted design up close, students can attain a much better idea of how the vessel was constructed and decorated. Also, by having the ability to peer into the dark interior of this distinctive form, one might begin to visualize or consider how or why such jars were used; was its purpose to store grain or water, as its form suggests, or could it have been used as funerary ware? Questions such as these become much more palpable when one has the chance to experience the historical object firsthand.”

The second gift is a collection of African art given my William C. Mithoefer, a 1953 Wooster graduate, and his wife, Renee-Paule Moyencourt. The gift includes objects from several ethnic groups not previously represented in the CWAM collection, such as the Zulu and Ndebele peoples of South Africa, the Kota-Mahongwé peoples of Gabon, and the Pende peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“These are fabulous objects in and of themselves, but when added to our African collection at Wooster, many of which were given previously by Mr. Mithoefer, they enrich the entire learning experience,” said Kara Morrow, assistant professor of art history at Wooster. “They help the students to become real scholars, and even more importantly, the cultural meaning of each provides students and members of the community with an opportunity to enrich our understanding of the world outside of Wooster.”

Having access to these objects allows students to add an experiential dimension to their education, according to Morrow. “Instead of having a class in which we tell them about things, these objects enable students to explore and discover for themselves, and to me that is a core mission of a liberal arts education,” she said. “These objects will have an extraordinary impact on how we think about and conceive our classes here.” Several of the newest gifts from Mithoefer and Moyencourt were recently on display in the CWAM in the exhibition “The Performative in African Art,” organized by Morrow and the students in her African Art class.

The most recent gift was a group of six silkscreen prints from The Andy Warhol Foundation for Visual Art, located in New York City. The iconic pop artist is famous for his images of such celebrities as Muhammad Ali and Elizabeth Taylor as well as his appropriation of consumer product imagery, such as Campbell’s soup cans. His works, which explore the relationship between artistic expression and celebrity culture that flourished in the 1960s, encompass a range of media, from painting, printmaking, and photography to silk screening, sculpture, and film. The most recent gift from the Warhol Foundation join more than 150 photographs given to the CWAM previously, and include silkscreened images of Sitting Bull, Pete Rose, and the German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys.

“Already in the works for next fall is a focus exhibition of Jay’s gift in support of the 2014 Wooster Forum on East Asia, and a special exhibition of the Warhol prints,” said McManus Zurko. “Truly, such gifts keep on giving in a teaching museum geared toward experiential learning.”

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