Emerson Gallery

History of Exhibitions


The Best Kind of Life: Edward W. Root as Teacher, Collector and Naturalist

September 27, 2007 - January 6, 2008

Edward Root

George B. Luks (American, 1867-1933)
Edward Root, 1909-1910
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in.
Collection of John B. Root '05
"The Best Kind of Life": Edward W. Root as Teacher, Collector and Naturalist focuses on a little known aspect of the pioneering efforts of Edward W. Root '05, Hon. '52, P'44 to promote American art. Known chiefly as a collector, Root's activities as a naturalist and his novel approach to art education during the two decades (1920-1940) he taught art appreciation at Hamilton College have been largely overlooked. With a selection of Root's own teaching materials, and original works of art that he collected for instructional purposes, the exhibition provides new insights into the development of Root's collecting philosophy as well as the link between educational theory and the history of collecting in America.
An important group of historical photographs and documents, some never before published, presents an intimate portrait of Root and his time. As such, it is a compelling introduction to the powerful national and international forces that shaped American art culture during this period. The Root family saga is told, with special attention devoted to Edward's relationship with his father, Elihu, whose illustrious career included terms as Senator from New York and Secretary of State under two Presidents.
Root's close friendships with the artists he collected, such as George Luks, Edward Hopper, and Charles Burchfield, are also documented with irreplaceable family photos, original letters, and works of art. A highlight of The Best Kind of Life is the recreation of the 1931 exhibition that Root curated from his own collection to introduce contemporary American art to his upstate audience. Root's choice of works by Charles Demuth, George Luks, Charles Burchfield and others marked the early emergence of the collecting vision that would inform all of his subsequent efforts, and also help to shape those public collections with which he was most closely associated.
Organized concurrently with the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute's exhibition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Edward W. Root bequest, The Best Kind of Life, presents a fully-dimensional portrait of Edward W. Root as educator, collector, and naturalist.

A highlight of the exhibition is an iPod audio-visual tour that was produced by eighteen Hamilton students from the class of 2009 who assisted with the curation of the exhibition.

The exhibition and audio tour was made possible with funds from the Dean of Faculty and The Dietrich Foundation. The Emerson Gallery's programs are supported in-part by the Edward W. and Grace C. Endowment Fund.