Have you ever wondered where The College of Wooster Art Museum (CWAM) sources their pieces? Look no further than the newest exhibit titled “Collect: New Acquisitions.” The exhibit, which is divided into one section of gifts and one of purchases, celebrates the most resplendent works received by the College and the one-of-a-kind perspective those pieces demonstrate.
“I did curate the collection pretty rigorously,” notes Marianne Wardle, the museum’s director and curator since 2021. “I wanted people to think about how we’re collecting.”
When taking a walk around the two galleries, you can expect to encounter a variety of different styles, techniques and stories — all cohesive in their own way. An initial look through the gifts section will reveal works donated from the Raymond Machesney ’59 Trust. After graduating from Wooster, Machesney developed an avid interest in collecting modern American artwork. He donated the first of these works to the College in 2004 and established an endowment for the support of new purchases over the course of the coming years. Many of the purchased pieces currently hanging in Sussel Gallery were acquired with funds from this endowment. Upon his death, Machesney left 18 pieces to the CWAM.
The “gifts” gallery is a treat to the eye, whose origins reveal the character of individual museum donors. It is less one cohesive collection than it is an assortment of miniature collections. For instance, Machesney’s donations reflect his love for modern American artistry, while Charlene Sussel’s display her appreciation of realism and seascapes. There is a wide variety of observable technique, ranging from stained glass-reminiscent work by Adam Fuss to the hazy, dreamlike etches of artist Peter Milton. According to Wardle, since some pieces from the gifts are not on display, it is more difficult to follow their stories than those purchased by the CWAM. However, that does not detract from the exhibit’s mission of recognizing the various influences on the College’s art institution over time. One could spend hours dissecting the history of each piece and its connection to its donor, let alone the entire gallery.
One step through the front door of Ebert Art Center is all it takes to be enthralled by the glimpse of countless communities that converge at The College of Wooster. According to Wardle, the “purchased” section of the exhibition reflects an expressed effort at heightened diversification of the museum’s holdings through a modern lens. The struggles of the Black, Indigenous and queer communities amid global change sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic was a focal point of this gallery. The collection of pieces titled “Grandma’s Lament/Sello sa Nkoko” (2019) by Black queer artist Jazzmen Lee-Johnson is an especially cogent representation of this theme. Across the pieces displayed, Lee-Johnson narrates the lives of a couple mired in environmental disaster while facing patriarchy and greed. Their efforts to flourish within this wasteland are illustrated using layered multimedia prints. These pieces are just one chapter of a longer unfinished novel synthesized by Lee-Johnson. Access to her website, which includes an excerpt from a musical chapter of the novel, can be found on display at the museum.
The effort of Wardle to put “Collect: New Acquisitions” together is as admirable as it is evident. Whether you’re a lifelong connoisseur of the arts or just a reliable stick man sketcher, there is something waiting for you and your eyes to enjoy in Ebert Art Center. Check it out before it’s gone on April 30!