YP: Tell us a little bit about yourself: where were you before coming to St. John’s College and what led you here?
LW: I am a military brat, so I’ve lived in a number of places, including Okinawa, (a small island off of the coast of Japan), but spent the majority of my childhood in Texas. I have a B.F.A. from the University of Texas at Arlington, a Maryland Teaching Certificate in Art K-12, and an M.A in
Art History and Philosophy from Notre Dame University of Maryland. I moved to Annapolis after graduation from UTA to figure out what to do with a fine art degree. I ended up working for a Naval Architecture firm working as a draftsman, editing reports and proposals and other interesting tasks. I lived in the Historic District and came to the St. John’s College campus for films hosted by the SJC Film Society, Friday night lectures, and exhibitions in the Mitchell Gallery. In 1996, the Mitchell Gallery was looking for an Art Educator and I applied and got the position, for which I was, and still am, thrilled.
YP: What are the things that you do as an Art Educator?
LW: Since we are a small staff, my position takes me in many directions, as it also does with our director, Hydee Schaller. My primary position is to provide programing, such as lectures, handson activities, and assist with the Mitchell Gallery Book Club, our Tuesday Try-It Workshops, and other exhibition-related events. I give lectures for the general public, seniors citizens, school groups from the public and private schools, as well as students from other colleges, civic associations, SJC students and alumna. I have hosted some workshops for SJC students in drawing, basketry, bookmaking and papermaking, the annual Emergency Valentine Card making, and particularly enjoy assisting with the Magnolia observation exercise for Freshman Lab. Additionally, I am in charge of our fabulous student Mitchell Gallery Guards. They are a fantastic team and we are most often all together for the four years of their education here. It is great to expand their experience, and mine too. I am a large part of the exhibition design, i.e., the look and feel of the exhibition through text panels and labels, wall color and signage, and other design components. We have a contractural preparator, Neal Falanga, who is the major player on the actual art installation. He is a terrific collaborator and we are very lucky to have him.
St. John’s College has a collection of over 800 pieces of Fine and Decorative Arts that have been donated to the college over the centuries and I serve as the Collections Manager. It’s a lot to keep track of, but worthwhile and wonderful to place works of art in offices and public spaces to create an inspiring and thoughtful environment.
YP: What is the most memorable event you held at St. John’s College?
LW: Oh my! That’s a big question to ask after my 23 years here! But there are three or four that strike
me off-hand. The first was our collaboration with two Anne Arundel County Public Schools for the exhibition, The Art of Music from the Baltimore Museum of Art. The schools came to the gallery, but we went to the schools and hosted a round-robin of activities, including story-telling,
a little history of music as it pertained to the exhibition, (complete with a live jazz trio), and a lesson in Swing Dancing, taught by SJC students. The Johnnies were wonderful, fast-thinking, and patient, to help create an exhilarating experience. It was memorable in all the right ways and there are some funny stories that remain in my memory for lessons learned. (Does anyone know what “cooties” are?)
With the assistance of Timon Linn, former head of Public Safety, we hosted a Civil War Reenactment and encampment here on the grounds of SJC in conjunction with the exhibition Civil War Era Drawings from the Becker Collection. A medical team “performed” field surgeries
under a tent, and there were artists who sketched the proceedings, as would have taken place during the Civil War. St. John’s College was Hospital #2 during the American Civil War, so this was a perfect event and exhibition for our own history. In 2017, in honor of our Robert Indiana exhibition, we hosted a city-wide poetry event, “Robert Indiana: Poetry and Picas-Circus of Words.” Students from St. John’s College and the gifted and
talented writing program from Annapolis Senior High were paired with professional poets, including two Maryland Poet Laureates, and our President Pano Kanelos, to write personal poems on demand–composed on typewriters. Over 250 poems were written and at the end of the four-hour event, the poets were just euphoric. It was quite a feat and we have had inquiries about hosting again.
YP: Can you tell me a little bit about Mitchell Gallery?
LW: The Mitchell Gallery was established in 1989 through the generosity of SJC Board of Visitors and Governors member Elizabeth Myers Mitchell. We host four museum quality exhibitions every year, and the annual SJC Community Art Exhibition, showcasing the talent of faculty, staff, and students. We borrow works of art from the Baltimore Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Louis Art Museum and many other major museums and institutions with an eye toward what appeals to our community with variances in time periods, styles, ethnicity, and medium. Sometimes these exhibitions directly relate to the program and others stand alone. We have had exhibitions of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints, Picasso ceramics, Chinese jade, paintings by American and French Impressionists and Old Masters, along with Dürer woodblock prints and Rembrandt etchings. We are proud to be one of
about 1,200 museums (out of about 17,500) nationwide to be accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. We are the only accredited college museum in Maryland.
YP: What is your favorite time of the day in the Gallery?
LW: Hmmm…my favorite time of day in the gallery is hard to determine because it depends greatly
on what is happening in the gallery. But I love to hear visitors comment on the artwork and
especially, with our current exhibition, The Life and Art of Mary Petty. It is fun to hear people
laugh and chuckle about the “New Yorker” magazine covers and cartoons.
YP: This one might be hard, but if you have one, who is your favorite artist and why?
LW: You are right –one favorite artist? I couldn’t name one—that would be like picking a favorite child! But I do have favorite artists from different time periods—I love the Old Masters— especially Rembrandt. Giotto, Vermeer, Turner, photographer Edward Steichen, printmakers— the list is too long—Hiroshige, Whistler, American printmakers Grace Albee and Claire Leighton, and 20th century artists Wayne Thiebaud and Keith Haring…many more artists… I can’t even think of a “desert island” scenario if I could only choose one artist.
YP: What do you think the importance of Art Education is?
LW: Art Education is important for such a wide range of reasons. First of all, art should be enjoyed, provoke thought, bring laughter and/or stir passion. Art can often be therapeutic instruments of expression. Sometimes it’s a mini-vacation or a trip down memory lane looking at a landscape,
seascape or a portrait. Art also teaches us to be good observers. There are practical components to all of this as well. Learning to observe is an important aspect of art appreciation, but it is also a good life skill. The science of color and optics, spatial relationships in linear perspective and
geometric form, variety and texture–all skills used in the fine arts–but may also come into fruition when deciding on the house renovation or a new color for living room drapes. Of course, craftsmanship is important, and teaching craftsmanship equates to the development of fine motor skills and spatial relationships. When I taught elementary school art, I had my students constantly using their hands to use scissors, paste, pencils, crayons, paint brushes, manipulate clay and paper, and all kinds of materials to help them create, but also to develop those skills that may, perhaps, translate into driving a screw into a wall (where you want it), sewing on a button, performing surgery, or re-wiring an electrical switch.
YP: What are some changes in the art scene of St. John’s College that you’ve noticed throughout your time here?
LW: Although this has been a progressive change over our 30 years, the Mitchell Gallery has become more established and exhibition attendance and related programs have increased. It is always nice to see those numbers. We attract about 13,000 visitors a year, which is good for us, and
great exposure for St. John’s College. Probably the biggest change came two years ago with the discontinuation of the Continuing Fine Arts Program, which had been established in the late 1960s or early 1970s. This was a program of classes in the visual arts, writing, and voice, open to faculty and their spouses, staff, and the general public, with half of the enrollment reserved for St. John’s College students. After that program was discontinued, the task of re-defining a student specific Fine Arts Program was turned over to the Assistant Dean’s Office. Mr. Dugan works closely with two student Art Studio Assistants to offer classes, studio time, field trips and more.