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We’ve Only Just Begun: Celebrating a Century of Collecting Art at Western Michigan University

August 29 – November 19, 2022

[closed during fall break, October 19 - 20]

Albertine Monroe-Brown Gallery

Curated by Indra K. Lācis, PhD, Director of Exhibitions, with research assistance by Katie Mumby, B.F.A., Frostic School of Art, ’22.

Join us for our fall exhibition reception!
Friday, September 23, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Food + drink + free parking in Miller Parking Ramp, next to RCVA

Created to enrich learning and work environments throughout Western Michigan University, the Art Collection this year celebrates its 100th anniversary. Featuring nearly 100 works by artists from around the globe, this commemorative exhibition brings together a range of media from diverse geographic areas, time periods, and styles. Drawn from nearly 3,500 objects either stored at the Richmond Center or installed in more than 50 buildings across WMU’s main and satellite campuses, We’ve Only Just Begun: Celebrating a Century of Collecting Art at Western Michigan University highlights major artistic movements while also tracing the University’s collecting patterns and the development of the niche position of the University museum and gallery within the art world ecosystem.

The first of two major exhibitions, We’ve Only Just Begun: Celebrating a Century of Collecting at Western Michigan University will be on view in the Albertine Monroe-Brown gallery at the Richmond Center from August 29 – November 19, 2022. Encyclopedic in scope, We’ve Only Just Begun includes examples of American Impressionism and European Romanticism, Japanese and Chinese ceramics, and art of Asian, African and indigenous American origin, as well as 20th-century Modernism, Post-war Expressionism, Pop art, and Postmodern painting and printmaking. Beginning in the late fall of 2022, a pendant exhibition spread through the Richmond Center’s halls and public spaces will feature works by former Frostic School of Art faculty and staff as well as Frostic School of Art alumni. Self-guided walking tours of major sculptural landmarks and works of art beloved across campus will be announced during the fall of 2022. The second major exhibition celebrating the UAC’s 100th anniversary, All Together Now: Contemporary Prints from the University Art Collection, will open on January 17, 2023, and remain on view in the Albertine Monroe-Brown gallery through February 25, 2023.

At the annual commencement banquet on June 22, 1922, Western Michigan University’s President Waldo announced that Albert May Todd would donate valuable books as well as prized paintings to decorate North Hall’s library and reading room. The proclamation of this prescient gift marked the beginning of Western Michigan University’s Art Collection and set in motion the idea of “art for all.” Known regionally and beyond as “The Peppermint King of Kalamazoo,” Mr. Todd would frequently open his personal galleries in the A.M. Todd (known as the “Todd Block”) building at the corner of Rose and Kalamazoo to the entire Kalamazoo community, including students attending Western Normal School. The Kalamazoo Gazette reported attendance of more than 7,000 people one particular Sunday afternoon.

Renowned at the time and cherished likewise today, Mr. Todd’s art collection forms the nexus of the University Art Collection. Following this initial gift, the Collection has grown exponentially through generous donations and select purchases. Today nearly a quarter of the University Art Collection consists of outstanding works by Frostic School of Art alumni, as well as former faculty and staff, including rich holdings of work by such prominent figures as Kalamazoo-based artist and WMU alumnus Ladislav Hanka and the late Dwayne Lowder, who served as Professor of Art from 1966 to 1982 in WMU’s Department of Art. The UAC’s many sub-collections are defined by significant donor gifts or holdings from specific geographic areas or time periods. Examples of such distinct holdings include the Stan Lee Collection, featuring original ink drawings for Marvel Comics and The Amazing Spiderman; the Isabel and Fred Beeler Collection, composed primarily of visual art collected from Africa; the Lydia Siedschlag Collection, with strong holdings in art of Asian origin; the Stenson Collection of Inuit Art; the Visual Arts of Africa Collection, which includes more than two dozen sculptures by Nigerian artist Lamidi Olonade Fakeye; and Art of Asian Origin Collection, with holdings in Chinese, Japanese, and Southeast Asian art.

Stewarded for more than a century by such figures as Lydia Siedschlag and, later, Holly Stephenson, Mindi Bagnall, and Clara Peeters, the University Art Collection is unique because so much of it is on view to the public at any given time, spread across public spaces throughout WMU’s main and satellite campuses. As many UAC curators have emphasized, this is one of the Collection’s major strengths but also a definite challenge with regard to collections management.

This exhibition on the occasion of the UAC’s 100th anniversary follows several previous exhibitions and catalogs, including the 1925 Catalog of Pictures in the Western State Normal School Library, Lydia Siedschlag’s 1960 text, Art in Buildings at Western Michigan University, Sebastian Buffa’s 1982 assessment and history of the Collection, and dozens of formal and informal exhibitions since the Collection’s founding. Several notable exhibitions of the past half-century include A.M. Todd, Collector: Porcelains and Paintings from the Todd Collection at the Kalamazoo Public Museum (now Kalamazoo Valley Museum), June 11 – August 30, 1980; 1987 Permanent Art Collection exhibition at WMU; The Legacy of Albert May Todd (2000), an exhibition and catalog organized and published by the Kalamazoo Historical Conservancy for the Preservation of Art; and the 2007 exhibition A.M. TODD Collection, installed at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts during the RCVA’s inaugural year. Today, the Richmond Center’s intimate James Wilfrid and Rose Netzorg Kerr Gallery is devoted to showcasing the University Art Collection and has hosted dozens of exhibitions culled from the permanent and print collections since the Richmond Center’s founding in 2007. Continuing this summer and throughout the next years, the exhibitions staff at the Richmond Center for Visual Arts are completing the most recent assessment and reorganization of the University Art Collection.