This past fall, I had the fortune of landing a job as a Collection Assistant for the Wheaton College Permanent Collection. After about a week of working for Professor Leah Niederstadt, who serves as Curator of the Permanent Collection, I began to grasp how large the Collection is compared to the relative size of our institution. I also realized that if I had not begun working for Professor Niederstadt, I would not know about the spectacular collection of art and artifacts that exists for the campus community. For that reason, I would like to give you a concise overview of Wheaton’s Permanent Collection.
According to the Permanent Collection website, the collection “consists of approximately 6,000 objects ranging from Egyptian antiquities to Wedgwood ceramics and from seventeenth century Chinese woodblock prints to contemporary art, including photography, sculpture and works on paper and canvas.” While artwork is displayed around campus and occasionally exhibited in the Beard & Weil Galleries, the collection is primarily used for teaching and research.
With that said, the collection has never been fully inventoried, so the exact number of objects is unknown. It should also be noted that the approximate size of the collection does not include pot sherds (pieces of broken pottery), stamps, and several collections of undocumented coins; with these, Wheaton’s collection would number closer to 10,000 objects.
More than one-third of the collection consists of works on paper: mostly prints and drawings. The collection also has over 250 paintings, nearly 80 sculptural works, and three works by Pablo Picasso and three by Rembrandt van Rijn.
The oldest piece in the Permanent Collection is a Cycladic figure, which was created between 2,500 and 1,100 BCE. Although many students may have studied this figure or viewed it on display in the Beard & Weil Galleries, two other objects are just as acclaimed. One of these is the DuBourg Book of Hours, a 15th century illuminated French manuscript purchased with the Newell Bequest Fund. It is incredible to consider that the book’s long history brought it to Norton, and the mere act of sitting down with the manuscript is an experience in itself.
The second well-known artifact is Little Blue Oval, made by the French-born artist Alexander Calder. The petite kinetic sculpture, like most Calder stabiles (the name for his stationary sculptures), is eloquent and completely captures Calder’s “trademark” components of balance and visually appealing symmetry. The sculpture was left as a bequest to Wheaton in 1994 and is among the most-studied objects in the collection.
The majority of Wheaton’s Permanent Collection was donated by alumnae/i or their families and friends, or by donors who had various connections to the college. However, at least, 100 objects in the collection were created by Wheaton faculty and students or by alumnae/i artists.
The Permanent Collection is truly magnificent because of its timeless diversity. If you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself. More than 225 works from the collection are currently displayed around campus. Aside from the art on public view, works from the Permanent Collection are exhibited at least biannually in the Beard & Weil Galleries. This semester, two courses are developing exhibitions for the galleries and these student-curated shows open on Nov. 19. Among the works to be exhibited are textiles, paintings, sculptures, and several prints by Goya, so be sure to check it out!
The collection is now more accessible to the wider public through the Permanent Collection website, which features “Collection Highlights” along with information about the many ways students and faculty engage with the collection. And anyone can make an appointment to view art and artifacts from the collection by contacting Professor Niederstadt at least 72 hours in advance.
Since you now know about Wheaton’s extensive art collection, how will you resist the temptation to attend future visual arts events on campus? I hope that you feel a sense of pride about your institution’s diverse Permanent Collection. While it sounds impressive, the collection is even more astonishing in person. As the busy pace of the academic year continues, we should all take the time to stop and smell the roses, but it is just as important that we take the time to stop and engage ourselves with the many wonderful artworks that belong to the college.