College Celebrates 60 Years of Visual Arts Department – The Bowdoin Orient


In 1962 the College appointed Thomas Cornell as its first permanent full-time visual arts professor, beginning the visual arts program, which would go on to produce artists like Abe Morrell ’77, Angus Wall ’88, Johannes Girardoni’ 89 and Shaun Leonardo ’01. Today, the program celebrates 60 years and its tremendous growth at the College.

1962–1985: creation of the program
From the late 1930s, art history teacher Philip Beam offered drawing lessons as a supplement to art history lessons. Although the Arts Department has offered similar studio classes over the years, its focus has remained primarily on history and criticism.

The program initially focused on drawing, with one of the four courses in the catalog being taught each semester. The arrival of John McKee in 1969 added photography to the students’ palette. Gradually the department accommodated architecture, 2D and 3D design, and by 1972 course offerings had increased to six per semester.

1985-early 2000s: stability and change
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the division was a revolving door, struggling to retain and hire new faculty. In response, the College appointed Mark Wethli, now A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art, as director of the division in 1985.

With his arrival and a more organized structure, the division began to stabilize. Cohesive course offerings in drawing, painting, printmaking, and photography have allowed students to build majors focused on the visual arts. Complementing Cornell’s emphasis on traditional drawing and painting techniques, Wethli encouraged the exploration of contemporary art.

At the turn of the 21st century, the complementary trio of Cornell, Wethli and McKee, along with other rotating auxiliaries, made up Bowdoin’s visual arts department.

To further stabilize departmental governance and course offerings, Cristle Collins Judd, then Dean of Academic Affairs, created four new full-time tenure-track positions, currently held by Professors Mullen, Kolster, Scanga and Brown. With the emergence of digital media, another rotating part-time position was created in 2017.

2013-present: Steady growth
The Visual Arts Center (VAC) was completed in 1975 to house the Art History and Visual Arts divisions. However, the steady expansion of the visual arts program soon outgrew the building’s limited space. Beyond that, studios were scattered throughout the VAC, Adams Hall, Burnett House, Fort Andross, and the McLellan Building (now Brunswick City Hall). In 2006, a self-assessment conducted by the College acknowledged this problem, but concluded that new space was still part of the “long term plan”.

The closure of the Longfellow School provided the department with an inescapable opportunity to settle. In 2013, the visual arts program officially moved to the Edwards Center for Art & Dance, bringing studios for painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, printmaking and digital media together under one roof, with additional spaces for teachers and the dance department.

Having witnessed the program evolve, Wethli suggested the move marked a sea change for the program.

“The interaction between our disciplines has become much more integrated and our physical identity as a department much more established,” Wethli said.

Sixtieth anniversary and looking to the future
To celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the program, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) dedicated a section of its exhibition “At First Light: Two Centuries of Artists in Maine” to five Bowdoin artist-teachers: Professors Wethli, Mullen, Scanga , Brown and Kolster.

“We are delighted that this installation of the work of Bowdoin’s outstanding visual arts faculty coincides with the 60th anniversary of this important department, which does so much to inspire campus with its creative vision,” said Anne-Collins Goodyear, co-director of BCMA. , said.

This 60th anniversary also offers programming the opportunity to reflect on its evolution and its prospects. Reflecting on the program’s growth, Wethli suggested he had a clearer idea of ​​its educational goals and how they fit into the larger liberal arts.

“We would like to think that we are not an accessory to other parts of the curriculum, but that the visual arts have things to teach us that are just as vital, just as meaningful and meaningful as any other discipline.”
As current Division President, art teacher and Visual Arts Division President Mike Kolster remains true to this mission.

“We hope to maintain our fundamental commitment to teaching close observation of the world as a means of developing habits of thought that examine and, where appropriate, reject habitual responses and ingrained biases that may cloud our vision.”


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