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Largest gift shows artistic flair

Elmer and Ruth Wellin

Wendy and Keith Wellin '50 gave the arts at Hamilton a tremendous boost this winter with a gift of $10 million for a three-building arts complex. The gift is the single largest in College history.

A retired Wall Street executive and life trustee of the College, Wellin made the gift in honor of his parents, Ruth and Elmer, who, along with Hamilton, sparked their son's lifelong love of art.

"I had the influence of my father, who was quite a fine painter, but Hamilton's impact on me in terms of art and the art world, drama and the fine arts was such an important part of my liberal arts education," said Wellin. "To get that kind of exposure to a teaching faculty, gallery, theater, that was an eye-opener for me."

Once completed, the project will add more than 65,000 square feet for arts education to campus, more than tripling the current space. The Wellins' gift will serve as a challenge to other potential donors to fund the arts complex.

"The facilities we are proposing are programmed for change," said Sam Pellman, professor of music and faculty coordinator of arts facilities planning. "Teaching and presentation spaces will be highly flexible and will be anchored by dedicated support spaces nearby. Each space will ­provide maximum opportunity for teaching and learning, for modeling best practices, and for the close interaction among students and faculty that distinguishes Hamilton."

In December, the trustees endorsed a three-building configuration for the expanded arts facilities, to include a new theatre on the north side of College Hill Road adjacent to Dunham Residence Hall and a new studio arts building and gallery/museum on the south side of College Hill Road adjacent to the Molly Root House, home of the Department of Art History. The "arts neighborhood" is intended to further unify the north and south campuses.

Specific preliminary plans:

  • The gallery/museum will replace the current Emerson Gallery located on the first floor of Christian A. Johnson Hall. ­Initial plans allow for more than 7,200 square feet of gallery and exhibit space and 5,850 square feet for preparation and storage. Space for classrooms and offices is also planned.
     
  • The studio arts facility will include a large classroom; an exhibition space; workshops, studios and support spaces for painting, printmaking and sculpture; a woodshop and "hot" workshop for metals and ceramics; a plaster/plastic workshop; a darkroom; and dedicated space for senior projects
     
  • The performing arts facility will include a fully equipped theatre accommodating 175 people for departmental ­productions; a more modest "black box" theatre for senior projects and class projects; a studio space; a seminar room; and storage and support spaces.

The new arts complex is not the first time Keith Wellin has made a major contribution to an arts facility at Hamilton. In 1988, the College dedicated the Carol Woodhouse Wellin Performance Hall in the Hans H. Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts. The state-of-the-art 700-seat auditorium was named in memory of Wellin's deceased first wife.

"My interest in arts began with my father, an artist whose talent was sidelined in order to earn a living," Wellin said. "Even though, as a college student, his cartoons were professional enough to be published in the Grand Rapids, Mich., paper, he turned to real estate to support his family." Later in life when he was financially comfortable, Elmer Wellin returned to painting and opened a small gallery in Chicago.

Wellin earned a degree in English literature at Hamilton before completing his M.B.A. at Harvard. During his career on Wall Street, he served as president and vice chairman of E.F. Hutton, president of Reynolds Securities Inc. and then chairman of DW Intercapital Inc. and vice chairman of Dean Witter Reynolds. He also served as chairman of Moorco International, a Houston-based energy equipment company.

Wellin, who joined the Hamilton board of trustees in 1969, served as chairman of the investment committee from 1988 to 1992. Like his father, he ­collects art and has lent several paintings by well-known American artists to Hamilton for exhibitions in the Emerson Gallery.

"I believe in putting the arts into liberal arts. Often students don't know what they don't know before coming to Hamilton. They get an exposure to the arts that lasts a lifetime," Wellin said. "I'm proud that this arts complex is on its way."
 

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