Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


A Century of Curiosities: The Story of the Hamilton College Collection

September 29 - December 30, 2005
A Century of Curiosities is the third exhibition in the Hamilton Collects series to focus on collecting in the Hamilton College community. Unlike its predecessors that featured recent collecting trends among alumni, parents, and friends, this exhibition presents an overview of Hamilton's approach to collecting as an institution. Since its beginning in 1873 the Hamilton College Collection has grown to more than 5,000 objects, and become an important educational resource for students and faculty in all disciplines.
 Henry Ossawa Tanner, (American, 1859-1932)

 Henry Osawa Tanner (American, 1859-1932)
Oil on plywood, 20 x 24 in.
Gift of Elihu Root, Jr. '36
Collection of Emerson Gallery
Hamilton College

The exhibition opens with College portraits that were exhibited in the Memorial Hall and Art Gallery during the 1870s. The missionary tradition of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy is evident in the Native American carvings and baskets from the Northwest Coast that are also part of the earliest collections. Highlights include outstanding Tlingit ceremonial rattles and a headdress frontlet in animal form.

The strength of the Hamilton Collection lies in its value as a teaching resource, and among its most useful tools is the Burgess Collection of ancient vases and glass, donated in 1929. This important gift was followed thirty years later by the bequest of Samuel Hopkins Adams, H-1891, who donated his comprehensive collection of prints by Currier and Ives. Adams's interest in the tales of life in his native New York is reflected in the many images that depict New York scenes, including Upstate resort areas such as Lake George, and life in the City.

In the period after World War I, Edward W. Root, H-1905, played a pivotal role in promoting art in the education of Hamilton undergraduates. Mid-twentieth-century prints by Louis Lozowick, Howard Cook, and Wanda Gag, and works by John Marin, Reginald Marsh, and Morris Graves, that were collected by Root's students, document his singular influence.

William Roehrick, H-1934, the first Chair of the Hamilton Committee on the Visual Arts, began collecting after World War II when he first encountered the work of English artist Graham Sutherland. Eventually Roehrick met and corresponded with Sutherland, and, in time, Sutherland's work became his focus. The Collection's strengths in the area of Modern British Art is further reinforced by the donations of Omar Pound, H-1951, son of the poet Ezra, H-1905. The works by Wyndham Lewis and Dorothy Shakespear Pound in this exhibition vividly recall one of the most heroic periods in the history of Western Art.

The section devoted to the contributions of the members of the Committee on the Visual Arts also includes paintings and sculptures by artists Marsden Hartley, Lionel Feininger, Amédée Ozenfant, and David Smith, as well as photographs by Walker Evans, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand. A bright spot in this section is the group of small bronzes by the French animalier Antoine Louis Barye donated by Phil Abell, H-1957.

The exhibition concludes with the collection of Pre-Columbian Art that was recently transferred to the Emerson Gallery from the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute. This outstanding new teaching resource has been recently supplemented by several anonymous gifts including an exquisite Diquis gold pendant.

The goals of the Hamilton Collects Series are to illuminate the art of collecting and affirm the value of a liberal arts education in making judgments of quality. With an outstanding selection of more than 100 objects drawn from the College's own collection, A Century of Curiosities argues both of these points with exceptional conviction. The show is accompanied by an exhibition catalogue.