The Ascent of the Arts

Tony Askew and John Carlander remember when the Westmont art department operated out of one room in Reynolds Hall and hung exhibits on the walls of Kerrwood. In more than 15 years as art professors, they have seen tremendous changes.

In 1986, the department moved into the renovated Art Center, which includes Reynolds Gallery, teaching and faculty art studios, and patios for printmaking and ceramics.

The inaugural show featured the work of Corita Kent, an internationally acclaimed artist who spoke at the building dedication. She designed a poster that captured the spirit of the time: “Leaping into the new: Arts ascent at Westmont College.”

With the new building, the College added a major in art, and the number of art students keeps growing. The gallery has hosted a series of outstanding exhibits, thanks to a committed group of community volunteers.

Last year, the art program took another leap forward when an anonymous donor pledged $5 million for a new art center and science classroom building. About the same time, the college added two full-time art professors.

The new art center will occupy the site of the mathematics building next to Voskuyl Library, Whittier Science Building, and Porter Hall. Locating three more buildings west of Whittier will create an academic complex that houses all classrooms and faculty offices. The art center and science classroom building will be the first two facilities constructed in the current drive to complete the campus.

“We’re so excited about the additional space for studios, classes, and exhibits, which we badly need,” Tony says. “Putting the art department at the heart of the academic complex will give art much greater visibility and make it more accessible. As the entrance to the academic complex, the art building will become the showpiece of the area.”

“Greater exposure to the visual arts will enhance students’ education,” notes Susan Savage, a new full-time professor who currently chairs the department. “Seeing art regularly will help them understand it better.”

“An artist is a lot like a lab scientist who needs equipment and space to work,” notes Provost Stan Gaede ’69. “We do need new facilities to help the art department continue to grow. The new art center will also make the visual arts more prominent on campus. Since art is meant to be seen, it makes sense to put it where people can easily observe it.”

Not only are the art studios crowded, but printmaking, ceramics, and sculpture classes are held outside. These facilities will all move indoors with the new building.

Increased gallery space will allow the College to establish two permanent collections: Japanese prints and American Impressionist paintings. The faculty consulted with the Art Council (community volunteers who devote their time and resources to the gallery) when deciding what kind of art to collect.

“Our location on the Pacific Rim makes it appropriate to emphasize Japanese art,” notes Tony. “Also, several Council members take a special interest in this kind of art.”

Art Professor John Carlander will teach drawing, painting, design, and cultural studies at Minnesota State University-Akita in Japan this spring and may be able to acquire some prints for the new collection.

To draw national attention to the gallery and exhibit works the public appreciates and knows, the department also decided to focus on American Impressionist paintings.

This spring, the Art Council will sell a cookbook featuring recipes and drawings from artists participating in the invitational show, “The Art of Dining” (look for an order form in the next issue of the magazine). The proceeds will help purchase the first American Impressionist painting for the collection.

A Council that Cares

Volunteers such as Richard Reed Armstrong and Phyllis Marble, who served on the early Art Council, helped Westmont raise money to renovate the Art Center and launch Reynolds Gallery in 1986. Phyllis has since become a valued member of the board of trustees, and the $100,000 Richard Reed Armstrong Endowed Scholarship in Art honors Dick’s many years of service to the College.

“The Art Council functions to support Reynolds Gallery,” explains Priscilla Fossek, a painter and art teacher who currently chairs the group. “Tony Askew is a magician at rallying support for the gallery,” she exclaims. “It’s nothing short of a privilege to be on the cheering squad for the gallery and the professors who have done so much to build up the department.

“The anonymous gift for a new art center has boosted our morale so much. It’s also exciting to see President Winter and Executive Vice President Ed Birch attend our meetings,” she adds. “The gallery serves both the students and the Santa Barbara community very well.”

JoAnn Lewis had no relationship with Westmont when Tony saw her walking on East Beach one day and invited her to join the council. She ended up serving as co-chair for five years. “An incredible group of people meet once a month at 8:15 a.m. to support the gallery,” she notes. “I have learned a lot about art through this experience, and I love attending lectures and mentoring students. It’s exciting to see the program prepare to take off!”

JoAnn’s co-chair, Judy Neunuebel ’69, says, “I love Reynolds Gallery and being part of the Art Council, not only because the gallery has benefitted the College and the Santa Barbara community, but because its presence makes a statement about the importance of art at Westmont. Thanks to Tony’s enthusiastic, creative, and dedicated leadership, and the talent, hard work, and commitment of the people on the Council, art at Westmont has made a lot of progress in the past several years and promises to continue to do so—particularly once the new art center is completed. We’ve come a long way since I was a student at Westmont!”

In addition to raising money, planning exhibit-related events, and giving advice on the curriculum, the Art Council has taken on a new project: members are “adopting” art students in an informal mentoring program.

A Gallery of Images

Over the years, Reynolds Gallery has hosted a wide variety of exhibits by internationally known artists. Works have ranged from traditional paintings and watercolors to innovative mixed-media and collages. This winter, the gallery showed the contemporary American folk art collection of alumnus Steve Pattie ’74: “Made with Passion: The Vision and Calling of Self-Taught Artists.”

Two favorite exhibits illustrate the range of works on display. In 1992, prints and lithographs by Christo documented his fantastic creations and use of fabric to wrap buildings and skirt islands and landscapes. The show provided fascinating insight into his work.

Last year, a deeply moving exhibit of paintings, “The Stations of the Cross” by Emilia and Zbigniew Fitz, incorporated 20th century images into the traditional scenes to show modern complicity in Christ’s suffering.

Art as a Liberal Art

A vibrant art program is an essential component of a quality liberal arts curriculum, so strengthening the art department benefits the entire college.

“The liberal arts focus on the true, the good, the right, and the beautiful,” explains Provost Gaede. “Certainly the visual arts are concerned with aesthetics, but they also cultivate a means of expression different than words that gives us glimpses into truth. So it seems to me absolutely critical to study art at a liberal arts college.”

“I am convinced that art is a positive vehicle for human expression and helps to make us human,” reflects John Carlander. “Exposure to creative activities can turn people from violent, destructive behavior to constructive, positive actions. Personally, I take art to have profound meaning for individuals. At its core, it is a search for truth and what is meaningful to us in our journey through life.”

“Art is another way of knowing,” says Susan Savage. “It allows students to experiment, take risks, and move beyond their comfort zone. Artists solve problems differently, using perceptual, non-verbal, intuitive, and spatial reasoning. Creating and understanding arts helps us think holistically.”

Art majors most often become teachers, but they also work in galleries and museums and do graphic design. Computer graphics and animation attract a growing number, including Dane Howard ’94, who won the top award in the 1998 Un Ange Passe juried art competition at the gallery. Numerous alums continue to produce and exhibit their art.

Whatever careers students choose, the art professors hope they become innovative contributors to society who make aesthetic choices from a broad perspective.

Integrating faith and art is a major goal. Professors and students explore answers to questions such as: What criteria should Christians use in aesthetic evaluations? What role should censorship play? How does artistic expression differ from one culture to another?”

“Understanding art can be difficult,” Susan notes. “The discipline of studying and reflecting on its meaning can teach us all a great deal.”

—Nancy L. Phinney ’74

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