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The Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center’s Digital Initiatives
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The twentieth-century galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The twentieth-century galleries of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
© Vassar College

The Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center located in Poughkeepsie, New York, is home to a permanent collection that spans from ancient Egypt and into contemporary age with works made within the last year. The permanent collection is extensive and sure to impress all types of visitors.

Pre-pandemic and post-pandemic, the FLLAC is a place the public can count on for initiative and public service. The center has believed in and will continue to believe in making online resources easy to access and providing rich content for all to enjoy.

Margaret Vetare, Curator of Public Education, dives deep into the history and operations of The Francis Lehman Loeb Arts Center:

1)What is the permanent collection like at FLLAC?

Like many art museums on college campuses, the permanent collection spans thousands of years from the art of ancient Egypt right up through contemporary works made within the last year. At 22,000 objects and counting, the collection is a trove of art that not only serves the needs of Vassar's educational community but also has broad appeal to the thousands of regional, national, and international visitors who come to the Loeb each year. That mix of traditional and contemporary in the permanent collection, along with a rich roster of temporary special exhibitions, means there's something for everyone no matter their taste or interests. We also use the permanent collection and the temporary exhibitions as inspiration for a diverse calendar of public programs relating to the art on view.

2)What types of media are there? As well as what significant art and/or artists?

The collection is made up mostly of paintings, drawings, and prints, with photography (in all its forms, from 19th-century daguerreotypes through abstraction and experimental processes of today) an area of exceptional growth in the past twenty years. Sculpture in a variety of mediums—stone, metal, plaster, wood, and mixed media—is also part of the collection, and we have a beautiful and intimate outdoor sculpture garden where many of our 20th-century sculptures are on view. We have smaller collections of ceramics, textiles, and metal wares.

One of the Loeb's strengths is its collection of Hudson River School landscapes of the mid-19th century, most of which came as a gift from Matthew Vassar at the time of the museum's founding in 1864.

People travel from far and wide to see these works by Asher Durand, Frederic Church, Sanford Gifford, and others who used their paintbrushes to celebrate the region's beauty.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for first-time visitors is the number and quality of 20th-century European and American paintings by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Agnes Martin, to name but a few. Our 20th-century galleries occupy the large central area of the building (which was designed by Cesar Pelli and completed in 1993), and natural light from clerestory windows enhances the visual experience.

The Loeb also has an amazing group of etchings and engravings from the 16th and 17th centuries by masters such as Rembrandt and Dürer. They are susceptible to light, so at any given time only a few might be on view, but they are remarkable. It's fun to go into the Loeb's searchable database (emuseum.vassar.edu), open up an image of one of these prints, and use the zoom-in function to get a sense of the intricacy and variety of lines that comprise each work.

Beyond these historical areas of strength, in recent years the Loeb's curators have notably been diversifying the collection in terms of artists, cultures, and communities represented, both through new acquisitions and through exhibitions. Some recent acquisitions we're excited about include a sculptural maquette from 2019 by Kara Walker, whose work investigates history, race, and identity, and an abstract print by Mary Lee Bendolph, who is one of the artists from the famed quilt making community of Gee's Bend, Alabama.

3)Can you tell us about its interesting history?

Vassar was the first college or university in the country to include an art museum in its original plan. The founder, Matthew Vassar, was a man of business—a brewer, in fact—but he believed in the importance of visual art for any educational pursuit. So, he enlisted one of the college's founding trustees who was an ardent art collector to assemble a sturdy collection with which to create the Vassar College Art Gallery. From that initial collection of about 3000 objects, the collection has grown to what it is today.

4)How has the pandemic changed the operations of FLLAC?

Like so many institutions, we have had to conduct most of our work remotely. I think we have all been surprised by how much can be accomplished while working from home: our curators continue to conduct research and planning for upcoming exhibitions, our collections management team continues to enhance our digital records and database functions, our academic programs and education staff continue to plan collaborations with Vassar faculty and outreach to public schools. Virtual meetings aren't quite as vibrant as in-person meetings, but they keep us in touch and allow for the synergies that make projects more dynamic and fun. Of course, we sorely miss being in the 3-D presence of the art collection and facilitating that experience for visitors.

5)How has the collection been made accessible to the public throughout the shutdown?

We've really ramped up our digital offerings during the pandemic. Our entire collection has been online in a searchable public database on our website for several years now, and almost 80% of the objects have high-res photographs.

More than ever we have been using Instagram, Facebook, student-run blog, and a newly-created YouTube channel to share content, and we are gradually creating online versions of some of our past exhibitions. We do a kind of weekly round-up of these resources in our e-news, which people can sign up for through a link on our website's homepage.

Even before the pandemic, the Loeb had engaged in a significant project for making our collections more accessible through digital means, the Collections Discovery Initiative. So making our online resources easy to access and rich in associated content is something we're focusing on and will continue to do so even after our doors are once again open for in-person visits.

6)Has there been any events planned either virtually or in-person going forward?

We just had our first two virtual programs in June and were really pleased with the response. The first was a talk by a member of the art history faculty and the second was a talk by a Vassar graduate of the class of 2020. Both programs included the opportunity for the audience to ask questions and both were very well attended. We're excited about lining up more of these programs going forward. We've also done a virtual field trip for some local 6th grade art students, and we are working on an Art at Home video series for young artists, taking inspiration as always from the Loeb's collection.

As part of our service to local K-12 students, we are currently working on a project to provide art supplies to low-income students to use at home.

We have been looking at ways to reschedule most of the special exhibitions that had been on the calendar, so we are keeping a close watch on the general re-opening plans for NY State and, of course, our plans will need to align with Vassar College's specific plans. So, we will know more in a month or two about how to proceed. In the meantime, we will continue to enhance our online offerings in ways we hope will be engaging even after we re-open.

7)How can virtual visitors’ get the most out of their experience with FLLAC?

Best idea is to sign up for our weekly e-news through the link on our website's homepage.

8)What are you most looking forward to for the future of FLLAC?

We look forward to our doors being open for in-person engagement with the art in our collection while at the same time continuing to use new and exciting virtual strategies we've adopted during the pandemic. We also perceive the need to actively promote social justice in every aspect of our work and hope that will be in evidence in our future. In short, we most look forward to resuming a vibrant, robust, and meaningful educational program that draws on an ever-more diverse permanent collection of art.

9)Additional comments/valuable information-

A lot of people don't realize that admission to the Loeb is always free. We like to spread the word about that!

The sculpture garden at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
© Vassar College