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Images Collected, and Recollected

USF’s permanent collection

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


While the University of Saint Francis' permanent collection has been covered in the past, the unimaginatively titled, "Recent University Acquisitions" is a superb example of how appropriate and timely this collection is as an archive of the great artistic talents which have been, and many who currently are still residing in Northeast Indiana. The School of Creative Arts is often lauded as being our area's premiere art school, and the representation of former students and faculty in this exhibition stand that test admirably. While the University does not have a true home for its permanent collection of over 6,000 pieces, one can see bits and pieces of it throughout the campus, and in curated slivers in the Mimi and Ian Rolland Art and Visual Communication Center, the Pope John Paul II Center, the Lupke Gallery at North Campus (where this exhibition was housed) and Brookside Mansion. The collection is even more admirable when one considers that it was created through the generous donations of local and regional art collectors, artists, and university donors.

Because the University Collection has evolved mostly through donations, its direction has been organic and sometimes haphazard, creating pockets of detail in photography, ceramics, and works on paper. Impressive bodies of work within the University Collection include The David Turnley Archive, and the William and Joan McNagny Collection of Sacred Icons. The pulitzer prize winning Turnley recently guest taught a class at SOCA, and their collection of his works includes not only the complete collection of his award winning photographic work, but also personal journals, published materials, and digital media. The McNagny collection contains over 100 brass and enamel icons which depict and enact biblical scenes, which were originally used to teach illiterate Christians, but became fixtures of Orthodox Christianity. These constant visual reminders of the divine acts of Christ, or the humility of the Saints, have since become near holy relics, reminding us of very different times. Most of the McNagny collection can be dated between the 17th-19th centuries.

"Recent University Acquisitions" includes several new names like Lisa Clague and her ceramic "Duck Scholar", Dr. Robert F. Green's stunning tricolor carbro matrix photo-print "Untitled (Waterfall)", and Bethia Brehmer's immaculate "Seasons, December." Brehmer's work specifically highlights the quality of the works on paper in the University Collection. This no-nonsense, print and paper skill muscle flexing, multi-color etching with impressive, complex embossment can literally take one's breath away. The combinations of textural and color-based depth produced by both the etching and embossment creates an intoxicating spatial flux. The strip of floral pattern, looking more like a wallpaper print than a representation of an actual place, simultaneously covering and being covered by the sedimentary layers of embossment imply an incredibly deep space within the image. Brehmer's "Seasons, December" was truly the delight of this exhibition. Between this collection, the Fort Wayne Museum of Art's impressive print collection, and the general appreciation that Fort Wayne has for the analog printed image like Artlink's National Print Exhibition, one need not look far for a constant inspiration as far as works on paper are concerned.

This exhibition also includes a number of familiar "SOCA-Family" faces from the collection like Audrey Riley, Tracy Row, Karen McArdle, Scott Ziegler, and Karen Thompson. Audrey Riley's work has always stood up to high expectations and rigorous design standards, but the two pieces representing her in "Recent University Acquisitions are exceptionally strong. "Daytimer", from Riley's past infatuation with spinning tops, cyclical time, and mixed media constructions on measuring sticks is a small work which packs a punch. The geometry of the burned grooves through the piece, contrasting with the glossy smooth represented surface of the tops makes them almost flicker like holograms within the image. "Other People's Money", a piece which caught this writer's eye when it was first exhibited in the Faculty/Alumni exhibition last Fall still retains its commanding presence with hazy, dirty green back ground looking like rising toxic fumes, framing the multi-colored, three dimensional encaustic letters of the blank and meaningless eponymous words. This piece takes on a wonderfully ironic tone within this exhibition as most of the pieces within the show were purchased by a collector from an artist, and then donated to the School's Collection, essentially making the piece a reflection of the exhibition, overshadowing some of the original intent of the piece's political message.

Tracy Row, a SOCA graduate who went on to Fort Wayne famously become a member of the E4 artist collective, is also well represented with two small etchings which highlight Row's capacity for characterization and a particularly empathic line quality. In "Self Portrait", Row places himself in front of a patterned wall or curtain giving his Elizabeth Peyton-like, pop cultured, hardline figure a French feeling like something from the Nabis or Matisse. In "Sunday Morning", Row displays local entrepreneur Wayne Shive, looking imperturbably into the viewer, hair slightly askew yet clearly composed. This sketched image captures a person's character the way a portrait is meant to, by the eyes, by the stature, and by the perceived space the person takes.

With such a prime collection, filling the walls of an institution which has seen tremendous growth over the past few years, the School of Creative Arts is slowly but surely creating a true gem that the Fort Wayne community will hopefully be able to see more of in the future. Every collection tells an intimate story about the collector which produces it. The University of Saint Francis' collection is telling the story of our City's arts and culture as we produce it and begin to perceive it.

"Recent University Acquisitions"
May 28-September 7, 2012
Lupke Gallery, North Campus
University of Saint Francis
Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm (closed noon-1pm)

*If interested in donating artworks to the university, contact Justin Johnson, Gallery Director- School of Creative Arts, 260-399-7700 ext. 8005 or jljohnson@sf.edu.

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