Kirby Art Study Center consolidates college art collections, provides opportunity to study original artwork

Professor Robert Mattison and curator Michiko Okaya show contemporary art to the modern art history class in the new Kirby Art Study Center. (Photo courtesy of Tori Schoen ’20).

For many years, Lafayette College’s art collections were stored in various locations throughout campus, inaccessible to students and researchers. Now, they are all available to view in one space: the Kirby Art Study Center.

“It’s become increasingly important among academic museums and galleries to use collections in teaching across the campus,” said Michiko Okaya, director of art galleries and collections curator.

The study center, located in the Williams Center of the Arts provides a space for students to study original art pieces throughout history in an individualized and educational setting. While the center has been open for about a year, it will be officially dedicated next Thursday.

Okaya has been the art collection’s curator at the college since 1982. She explained that about every five years, she put in a request to have a centrally located art collection storage area to use as a teaching resource. However, after the theater department moved down the hill to the Weiss Theater in 2016, she requested that the space that previously held the black box theater become the location for the art collection. Finally, her request was approved.

Through the center’s glass-paneled doors, viewers can see a backlit system of sliding grated displays. Each rack holds canvases from many artists throughout history. The design of the room, Okaya said, was based off of the The MET’s Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art‘s visible storage platform, so that the racks can be moved in order to see different works.

In the gallery, Okaya highlighted William Walcutt’s 1857 painting “Pulling Down the Statue of George III at Bowling Green, N.Y. July 9, 1776” showing the artist’s depiction of the pubic reaction after a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Okaya called the painting’s subject matter regarding what to do with public monuments a “very timely subject.”

Viewers of the gallery can also find the plaster model of the sculpture about the entrance to the Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

The gallery hosts a photography collections as well. Okaya said that one collection, 19th Century Italian architecture, will be used by art professor Robert Mattison’s architecture class this semester.

If students and members of the Lafayette community would like to access the center, they should contact Okaya to make an appointment.

President Alison Byerly said that she was excited to see the project completed.

“The college is fortunate in owning many more works of art than we currently have space for in our museum galleries, and the art study center provides an opportunity to store these paintings in a way that allows them to be rolled out and exhibited quite easily for classes or for other visitors,” Byerly said.

Byerly emphasized that the art center allows for the Kirby Collection of Historic Paintings along with other works of art to be more accessible to the college community.

The Lafayette community is invited to join Byerly in celebrating the dedication of the Kirby Art Study Center in the Williams Center next Thursday, September 26 at 4:00 p.m.

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