Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on September 26, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of Brauer Museum of Art, Valparaiso University. The essay was previously included in a September 1995 illustrated Inaugural Booklet published by the Museum. Images accompanying the text in the illustrated Inaugural Booklet were not reproduced with this reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the illustrated Inaugural Booklet, please contact Brauer Museum of Art through either this phone number or web address:



 

As it was in the beginning

 

Tantae molis erat artium condere museum

-- Vergilius Maro (adapt.)

 

Colleges and universities have notoriously short memories. A student generation passes through in somewhat less than four years: and, at least in my day, there was a turnover of thirty or more faculty members every year. How, then, can we be expected to remember Miss Susan E. Hale, prefectress of the "Ornamental Department," who taught drawing and painting more than a century and a quarter ago in the Valparaiso Male and Female College which was eventually to become Valparaiso University?

But Miss Hale was the first in a long line of artists and teachers of art which we can trace back to the very beginnings of this University. And that line, only rarely broken, allows us to boast, with pardonable pride, that Valparaiso University has always cherished and supported the fine arts. From Miss Hale, through Miss Phoebe Riley and her successors in the Northern Indiana Normal School and Business Institute, to Stanley Bielecky and Ernst Schwidder and Richard Brauer and Richard Caemmerer and George Strimbu and Fred Frey, to David Morgan and his colleagues the line descends, in each generation reminding us that a university, like the human beings of whom it consists, does not live by bread alone. Music, the theatre, painting, sculpture -- these are not merely the ornaments of life; they are the marks of our humanity. the carriers of civilization. The new Center for the Arts, which we are formally dedicating this weekend, is a bold, strong assertion of this University's continuing commitment to these arts. And the inclusion in that building of gallery space for the Valparaiso University Museum of Art is for many of us a special joy, for it is the fulfillment of a promise made almost half a century ago when the University was given the nucleus of its present extensive collection of works by American artists.

The donor was Percy H. Sloan, an old bachelor who had spent most of his life as an art teacher and supervisor in the Chicago public schools. In 1950, a few months before he died, Percy Sloan decided to leave his collection of American paintings to Valparaiso University -- largely, it seems, because he was impressed by President O. P. Kretzmann's enthusiastic offer to accept and support the Collection. Mr. Sloan's trustee, Louis P. Miller, negotiated a trust agreement with the University, under which the University obligated itself to carry out the donor's expressed wish that "the Collection [be] operated as actively as is the college library, and to the same end, i.e, the fullest possible service to the students and the community." The University promised to fulfill this wish by (among other things) providing galleries in which the Collection could be displayed and used educationally.

Mr. Sloan also created an endowment of some $150,000 to maintain, expand, and use the Collection educationally. This was a generous gift in those days, but. it was also one which created problems for those who were responsible for administering it. For it was obvious from the content of the Collection where Mr. Sloan's artistic preferences lay. His father, Junius R, Sloan, had been a self-taught, locally prominent Midwest painter whose landscape work was of what has come to be called "the Hudson River School." He could, perhaps more properly, be called a "Prairie Painter," for his work captured the feel of the Midwestern prairies. In either case, Junius Sloan celebrated the beauty of unspoiled Nature. His paintings made up the greater part of his son's collection. Other painters whose work was represented in the Collection could be classified as "conservative" painters -- artists such as Frederic E. Church, Robert Reid, and Frank Dudley. There was nothing in the collection to suggest that Mr. Sloan thought well of the idea of the artist as social critic, and he clearly was no fan of abstract painting.

Mr. Miller, the trustee of the Endowment, whose consent was required before any Endowment funds could be used to acquire new paintings, proved to be remarkably generous in his interpretation of the restrictions imposed by the Trust Agreement. The curators, as was their duty, sought to update the Collection with the best contemporary work we could afford, even though some of it could hardly be described as "conservative," in Mr. Sloan's understanding of that term. The chairman of the five-member committee which President Kretzmann had appointed to administer the Endowment was Mr. Stanley Bielecky, a part-time instructor in art, who arranged for the storage of the paintings and began the practice of displaying some of them in administrative offices and other places around campus where they were likely to be seen by a great many people. In 1956, he made an inventory of the Collection. It listed 382 paintings, valued at $52,875.

After a very short time, Mr. Bielecky left. He was succeeded in the chairmanship by Dr. L. Albert Wehling, of happy memory, a lawyer who believed, as all good lawyers should, that a trust agreement is as sacred as any other contract and should be interpreted in the light of the donor's presumed intent, insofar as that can be determined. Curator and chairman sometimes disagreed in their readings of the Trust Agreement. But by 1960 the interest which had accrued from the Sloan Endowment had made it possible to purchase some thirteen additional paintings, the most notable of which are North Woods Mood by Charles Burchficld and Caiaphas by Siegfried Reinhardt. Reinhardt had also given us his painting, Design for a Cross, and Burchfield, in 1954, gave us his painting entitled July.

In 1959, Professor Ernst Schwidder came to Valparaiso as founding chairman of the newly established Department of Art. He was also, in February of 1959, designated Curator of the Sloan Collection. It was he who began the Sloan arts program, which consisted of about nine art exhibitions, three art lectures, and one major art acquisition each year. This approach to art programming continued through the Fall of 1972, bringing to the campus during that thirteen-year period about 125 art exhibits, twenty-six speakers, some thirteen "prime" additions to the Sloan Collection, and another ten works which would become a part of what would eventually come to be called the University Art Collection.

Professor Schwidder, to our regret, received an offer which he could not refuse to his native Northwest. But, as if to remind us that the best of us is not irreplaceable, his leaving opened the way for Richard Brauer to join us. And with his coming, in 1961, a new era began in the development of the Collections, leading ultimately to the establishment of the Museum.

In the summer of his first year, the membership of the governing committee was enlarged, with Professor Wehling continuing as chairman. Thereafter, under the goading of our Curator and with the sympathetic understanding of Mr. Miller, the Endowment trustee, we embarked on our aggressive course of transforming the Sloan Collection from an assortment of limited variety and value into a collection of American paintings and objects of art which reflected the diversity of American art and artists at their best.

Meetings of the Committee in the early Sixties tended to be on the lively side. Ordinarily they were held in the studio of Dr. Vera T. Hahn, the founding Head of the Department of Speech and Drama, one of the earliest and most vigorous champions of the fine arts at the University and, it would appear, President Kretzmann's first source of information about the Sloan Collection and Percy Sloan's search for a suitable place to house it.

Dr. Hahn's studio was, by some legal technicality, "off-campus," and not, therefore, under the University's ban on alcohol. This allowed, and even encouraged, all of us (except Professor Ferguson) to speak as the spirits gave us utterance. Fcrg, alas, had to restrict himself to a few sips of wine because he was, and for many years continued to be, secretary of the Committee, and therefore obliged to keep minutes worthy of a deliberative body.

And deliberate we did. Whatever occasional heat may have been generated by our deliberations was not, however, the product of alcohol, but of deeply held convictions about the balance to be struck between our legal, moral, and ethical responsibilities under the Trust Agreement and our professional responsibility to allocate the resources under our care in the best interests of the University. And it must be said also that, for most of us, the Sloan Committee was a very special kind of committee; the kind of quid pro quo compromising that worked so well on most university committees did not work very well when we debated matters involving significantly different aesthetic opinions.

I think it is fair to say that, in spite of all the difficulties, we made some remarkable progress between 1960 and 1972 in enlarging the Sloan Collection with works that could fairly be described as "conservative." Among the artists whose works were added to the Collection during these years were Eastman Johnson, William Glackens, John Sloan, Childe Hassam, Walt Kuhn, Georgia O'Keeffe, John Marin and Moses Soyer. it was during this time also that we came to know Dr. and Mrs. William J. Ball, relatives of Percy Sloan, as friends and generous benefactors.

In those days, our Curator carried paintings to wherever he thought they were most likely to be seen and appreciated by students and faculty. In a sense, the whole campus was his gallery. I hope that our long-hoped-for home of the Museum will not leave other buildings bereft of art works of the quality to which so many of us have become accustomed.

In 1968, when Dr. Kretzmann concluded his great 28-year presidency, he left as his legacy a university vastly different from the one he had inherited in 1940. This new campus was well on its way to completion, enrollments were high, new departments and programs were becoming solidly established, we were becoming religiously and culturally and socially more diverse, and we were beginning to realize that the simple patriarchal structure which had served us so well in the past was no longer adequate to meet the needs of what we had become.

In our own little corner of the campus, our Committee had come to recognize that our Curator could no longer handle that increasingly demanding job along with the chairmanship of a burgeoning Department of Art. The sheer size of our collection had grown from 386 works to 529. Its value had increased from $52,000 to $132,000. The Sloan Endowment Fund had reached a value of some $300,000, and its earnings were running to about $13,000 a year. The time had clearly come for some professionalization of our operations, a fact which became even more obvious when failing heath forced Dr. Wehling to relinquish the committee chairmanship in 1970. Dr. Warren Rubel, of Christ College, succeeded him, and served with great distinction until he went on sabbatical leave in January, 1976, at which time Dr. Jack Hiller, Professor of Law, was appointed chairman -- a remarkably fortunate appointment, as it turned out, and one which continues to leave a strong, sensitive, and enduring mark on the work of the Committee.

The following year, 1971, Mr. Louis Miller, the patient, understanding, and perhaps long-suffering trustee for the Sloan Endowment, retired, leaving the interpretation of Mr. Sloan's will and the Trust Agreement entirely to the judgment and good faith of the Sloan Committee. The Committee's minutes of September 24, 1971, record that, in a luncheon talk, "Mr. Miller reminded the committee that upon accepting the Collection of American Paintings and its Endowment Fund, Valparaiso University agreed to provide suitable galleries and maintenance facilities. He felt that the space now used for showing the collection [in Moellering Library] was adequate but temporary. He urged the committee to place a higher priority on planning for a permanent gallery."

For its part, the Committee resolved, on June 19, 1972, "that in the absence of an acting trustee the committee will honor the conservative position of the Trust Agreement [as opposed to certain more liberal statements in Mr. Sloan's will]." This meant that Sloan funds would henceforth support only loan exhibitions of American paintings, drawings, and prints and would be restricted to the purchase of works of a conservative style.

It was President Huegli who codified and institutionalized the prophetic visions of Dr. Kretzmann. In the Fall of 1972, he provided a budget for a half-time Director of Art Galleries and Collections, and a budget of $1,200 for loan exhibitions, which could no longer be supported from Sloan funds. Professor Brauer chose to relinquish the department chairmanship and take on the duties of Director of Galleries and Collections. He was given an advisory council -- the Visual Arts Council -- made up of students, faculty, and staff. On February 22, 1974, President Huegli officially renamed the Sloan Committee "the University Museum Council" and gave formal recognition to the University Art Collection. That Fall, he approved an acquisition budget of $1,000 and a conservation and display budget of $350(!). At about the same time, the Vice-President for Student Affairs established a Cultural Arts Committee to encourage attendance at the rapidly expanding number of cultural events which came into their own in the early Seventies. An additional source of income for Art Department student exhibits and special programs became available to us in 1972, when the Zahn estate made a grant of $11,500 to the University for this purpose.

In the 1970s, Professor Brauer mounted an average of twenty-six exhibits a year. Typically there would be monthly exhibits in Moellering Library, in the Union, and in Christ College. Longer but less frequent exhibits were held in the Chapel, in Neils Science Center, in the LeBien School of Nursing, and in the Law School's Wesemann Hall. So we did, in fact, honor Percy Sloan's request that the Collection be operated actively and to the end of the fullest service to the students and the community. And we found ourselves in the happy position of being able to add to the Sloan Collection works by such well-regarded artists as Morris Graves, Jack Beal, Edward Hopper, and Joseph Raffael. We were also able to purchase with University Art Collection Acquisition Fund monies New Mexican Santos by Jose Aragon and George Lopez; prints by Hubert Distler, Sadao Watanabe, and Larry Stark; photographs by William Clift and Andreas Feininger; a tomb grouping of pottery from Dr. Walter Rast's ancient Palestinian archaeological excavations; a student sculpture; and ten 1976 Olympic posters.

This is perhaps as good a place as any to note the important but largely anonymous roles which two men played in the procurement and financing of the works of art which comprise the Sloan and University Collections. The first of these, Dr. Albert Frank Scribner, was at various times registrar, business manager, and Vice-President for Business and Finance of the University. Scrib was the man to whom President Kretzmann always assigned the responsibility for funding his most recent impossible dream, and from the very first Scrib saw in the Sloan Collection the nucleus of something that simply had to develop into all that it was capable of becoming. And the other man is Robert B. Springsteen, Scrib's right-hand man, himself a connoisseur and practitioner of the fine arts, who contributed unstintingly of his business acumen and his appreciation of artistic excellence to the development of the Collections.

One of the many happy consequences of President Huegli's creation of the Museum Council with a Director unencumbered by other administrative duties was that acquisitions could be more carefully considered. The quality of the works which we had acquired prompted a number of artists and owners whose work we had coveted but could not afford to purchase to give us examples of their work. The Sloan Collection was particularly fortunate to receive paintings, drawings, and designs by Charles Burchfield, thanks largely to the efforts of his daughter, Mrs. Robert D. Mustain. The University Collection also grew in numbers and diversity during these years.

Even more gratifying was evidence that the larger world of art had begun to hear about Valparaiso's little museum. From time to time we were asked to lend works from our Collections for exhibits at better-known institutions. Among these were the Crocker Art Gallery in California, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Ball State Gallery, the Gallery of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

In the Fall of 1976, the Director, Professor Brauer, suggested that it might be wise to consider thinning down the collection of Junius R. Sloan paintings. Milo Naeve, Curator of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, was engaged to appraise the aesthetic value of the combined Collections. I quote two excerpts from his letter to Dr. Hiller, then as now the Chairman of the Committee:

You have an amazing person in Richard Brauer. His keen judgment is exceptional, and the proof is in the paintings, drawings, and prints selected with extremely limited funds. Through his efforts, you have a collection of national significance a treasure for the University.The kind of taste he has exercised is a talent which cannot be learned, cannot be taught. It is innate, and it is the reason some individuals are great poets, great musicians, or otherwise excel in the arts. He is also dedicated. He spent the day, from 9:00 to 7:00 with me, and he was as excited and as enthusiastic as when we started. . .
 
My overall conclusion is that a great resource of the University is not being utilized. You have the art objects and the staff for a remarkable small University museum of great benefit to your students, staff and community. That museum should also he matter of pride, and it should also be a matter of excellent public relations.

In a self-study of the University Art Galleries and Collections dated February, 1979, Professor Brauer made two recommendations which were to become the blueprints for a vigorous course of action which, under the strongly supportive administrations of President Schnabel and President Harre, have brought us to this long-hoped-for day. The first of these recommendations was that the various collections be gathered together under one administrative unit to be known as the Valparaiso University Museum of Art. On November 18, 1987, president Schnabel gave formal approval to this recommendation in a memorandum to Professor Brauer. And the second recommendation was that the University give high priority to providing professional art display and storeroom facilities for the prime works in the Collection, and for the high-quality loan exhibits that could be brought to the University community. President Harre's decisive support of this recommendation ensured it's fulfillment in the planning of our new Center for the Arts.

Given this kind of status and. support, the Museum has seen dramatic growth and development these past fifteen years. By the mid-1990s, the collections have come to number about 1600 art works, having a total valuation of at least five million, probably closer to six million dollars. And the "mix" of acquisitions: while the emphasis is still clearly on American pieces, we now have a growing number of non-American works, among them Picasso and Rouault prints.

A major bastion of support, moral and financial, in recent years has been the organization to which, I am sure, many of you belong: the Friends of Art, which was founded in 1986 by Josephine Ferguson and a few of her friends. Particularly because its membership was drawn from the community, the 435 Friends have given the Museum a much more diverse audience for its exhibits and lectures. The Friends' Newsletter, which is published three times a year, has given its members and other art lovers a strong communications link with the Museum and a means of keeping informed on all kinds of artistic activities on campus. In 1991, the Friends inspired and funded the establishment of an annual juried exhibit for students of the University. To date, they have spent $40,000 on Museum acquisitions and contributed an additional $200,000 in art works, among them such major works as Brookville by T. C. Steele and most of the Museum's forty-nine Sadao Watanabe Biblical prints. It must be said, at the risk of publicly embarrassing them, that among the major donors have been Josephine and Byron Ferguson. And in 1993, the Friends played a crucial role in founding and funding the Museum's National Advisory Council, which consists of museum professionals, art historians, and collectors who are able to bring their outside perspectives to bear on the Museum operations and collection developments.

As some of us know from personal experience, when a long-deferred hope becomes suddenly a present reality, there is a period of time when we are stunned into a kind of trance-like state of delight. This, it seems to me, is a danger against which we must be on guard in these days of celebration -- not the delight itself, but the temptation to feel that "the strife is o'er, the battle done." It doesn't work that way. Creating a museum is one thing; maintaining it and enlarging it is even harder, and usually far more costly.

And herewith I will close. I think that Professor Ferguson and I are the only surviving members of the original Sloan Committee. So stand up, Ferg, and join me in thanking -- on behalf of O. P. and Bert Wehling, and Scrib, and Vera Hahn, and Walt Friedrich -- these friends who are with us today, and the many others who can not be with us today, for all they have done to make this day happen.

 

About the author

Dr. John H. Strietelmeier was, at the time of writing of the essay, former Valparaiso University Editor, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Vice President of Academic Affairs, 1973-79, and long time Sloan Committee and Museum Council Member.

 

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