Artful Teaching

by Stacey J. Himmelberger and Katherine D. Alcauskas

The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art marked its fifth anniversary this fall with “Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions,” a showcase of pieces from the College’s permanent collection that is both a tribute to the past and a look to the future.

From the mid 19th century to today, Hamilton has acquired more than 6,000 works of art and cultural artifacts. Throughout the years, these pieces have been displayed across campus in a variety of spaces that, collectively, served as a precursor for the new building — the College’s first to be designed and constructed for the sole purpose of serving as a teaching museum.

“On one hand, the exhibition looks back on Hamilton’s long history of collecting and exhibiting art as well as the relationship of those activities to its educational mission; on the other hand, it highlights our recent work as a creative incubator for new exhibitions and original scholarship and as an institution dedicated to crafting a permanent collection on the cutting edge of the field,” noted Johnson-Pote Director Tracy L. Adler in the accompanying exhibition catalogue.

This page features nine pieces from “Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions” that offer a glimpse of the artful teaching tools found in Hamilton’s collection.


Tightrope_Elias_SimeElias Sime

(Ethiopian, 1968-)

Tightrope, Familiar Yet Complex 2, from the series “Tightrope,” 2016
Reclaimed electronic components and telephone wire, mounted on particleboard, 83 x 87 ½ in.

Purchase: William G. Roehrick ’34 Art Acquisition and Preservation Fund

One of its most recent acquisitions, this piece is the Wellin’s first object of contemporary African art. A combination of sculpture and painting, Elias Sime’s tableaux feature found objects — in this case components from discarded electronic devices. The colorful patchwork piece is intended to “show the cost of progress; while citizens of ‘developed’ nations consume and swiftly dispose of the newest models of cell phones, laptops, and video game consoles in a race for social relevance, people in countries such as Ethiopia suffer from the toxic effects of the refuse those consumers leave behind,” wrote Katherine D. Alcauskas, collections and exhibitions specialist, in the exhibition’s accompanying guide.

A Teaching Museum

As a teaching museum focused on object-based learning, the Wellin, with its distinctive visible storage system and innovative programming attuned to multiple academic disciplines, encourages exactly the types of interaction that define a liberal arts education. Students exposed to the Wellin’s exhibitions and programs profit from resources and acquire tools that bring greater clarity and depth to their understanding of the world around them.” —

David Wippman — President

Many of the early pieces in the College’s collection came as gifts from alumni. Through these acts of generosity, graduates, inspired by their Hamilton educations, found a philanthropic means to a pedagogical end — giving back to the liberal arts mission. Other acquisitions, as well as visits from artists and curators, are made possible through endowed programs
established and supported by alumni.


Between Rounds, No. 1 George Bellows

(American, 1882-1925)

Between Rounds, No. 1, 1916
Lithograph, image 20 3/8 x 16 ¼ in.

Purchased with funds donated by William H. Areson ’34, D. Roger Howlett ’66, Joseph L. Katz ’26, and William G. Roehrick ’34, H’71

Acquired in 1984, this print was the first purchase made for the Hamilton College collection. A lithographer, George Bellows was well known in his era for paintings and prints that depict scenes from boxing matches, a shock to viewers at the time since public prizefighting was illegal. This particular print is based on an illustration he created to accompany a story published in the April 1913 issue of American Magazine titled “The Last Ounce.”

Daniel Huntington, H1850, H1869

(American, 1816-1906)

Figures in a Wooded Landscape, 1867
Oil on canvas, 19 ½ x 40 in.

Figures in a Wooded Landscape

Purchase: William G. Roehrick ’34 Art Acquisition and Preservation Fund

Considered a successor to the famed painter Thomas Cole, Daniel Huntington was inspired to pursue the art form while a student at Hamilton. Although he left the Hill before graduating to study art in New York City, he remained close to the College, receiving two honorary degrees. Huntington is best known for his portraits, including those of such prominent figures as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Van Buren, but he also painted landscapes in the Hudson River School tradition.

Dorothy Shakespear

(British, 1886-1973)

Hommage á GB WL TSE EPHommage á GB WL TSE EP, 1937
Watercolor on paper, 26 5/8 x 16 7/8 in.

Thanks to donations from Omar S. Pound ’51, Hamilton maintains a vast collection of watercolors and drawings by his mother, Dorothy Shakespear, and archival holdings related to his father, the poet Ezra Pound, Class of 1905, H’39. Although her early watercolors were traditional, Shakespear’s style shifted toward abstraction as she became inspired by the growing avant-garde movement in London. The work shown here celebrates her close circle of friends, including Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wyndham Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and her husband.

Greek Vessels GREEK

Red-figure hydria (water jar), c. 350-325 BCE (left)
Terracotta with slip, 19 ½ x 9 ½ x 9 ½ in.

Red-figure calyx-krater (mixing vessel), c. 350-320 BCE (right)
Terracotta with slip, 12 3/8 x 10 3/8 x 10 3/8 in.

Bequests of Edward S. Burgess, Class of 1879, H1904

These vessels are two of nearly 60 bequeathed in 1928 by Edward S. Burgess, Class of 1879. At Hamilton, Burgess studied classics, helped organize the Emerson Literary Society, and was named class poet. After graduating, he held a fellowship in Greek at Johns Hopkins University and taught botany and natural history before earning a doctorate at Columbia. He also served as director of the New York Botanical Gardens. The collection he provided to Hamilton continues to serve his original wish — that of a teaching tool — as it includes vases in a variety of shapes and sizes from all major periods and significant sites of ancient Greek and Roman production from the seventh to the third century BCE.

William E. Williams ’73

(American, 1950-)

Untitled, Philadephia Untitled, Philadelphia, from the portfolio “Party Pictures,” 1981
Gelatin silver print, 14 3/8 x 14 ½ in.

Gift of Tom Beck

A bow-tied server is the subject of this photograph from the series “Party Pictures,” shot by Willie Williams ’73 between 1977 and 1983 at nine social events ranging from society galas to drag balls. While a student at Hamilton, Williams was introduced to the work of documentary photographer Walker Evans by Sylvia Saunders, daughter of longtime Chemistry Professor and Dean Arthur Percy Saunders and herself a noted artist. Williams received his master of fine arts degree from Yale University and began teaching at Haverford College where he is now the Audrey A. and John L. Dusseau Professor in the Humanities.


Fragment of a relief
Gypsum with remnants of red pigment, 23 ¼ x 14 5/8 x 1 ½ in.

Gift of Henry Dwight Williams, H1869

One of the College’s earliest pieces, this stone fragment originally lined a wall in the palace of the ruler Ashurnasirpal II. In the mid 19th century, the palace in Kahlu (in present-day Iraq) was excavated with permission of the Ottoman Empire, and many reliefs were removed. The Rev. William Frederick Williams, Honorary Class of 1870, served as a missionary in Turkey and helped arrange shipments of the reliefs to American colleges and universities. This one was gifted to his brother, Henry Dwight Williams, Honorary Class of 1869, who, in turn, donated it to Hamilton along with other “curiosities and specimens in natural history,” as described in the Hamilton Literary Monthly (Nov. 1868), that included a compass and “a Tom-Tom, for calling people to prayers.” Henry Williams acquired many of these items in China where he served as commissioner of the Imperial Maritime Customs Service at Nanking.


Native American Objects

Headdress frontlet (Tlingit), c. 1825-50 (left)
Wood with paint and abalone, 7 ½ x 5 7/8 x 2 ¾ in.

Katsina figure (Hopi), c. 1875 (middle)
Wood with paint, 11 x 7 ¼ x 1 5/8 in.

Eulachon (candlefish) oil bowl (possibly Haida), c. 1850-1900 (right)
Mountain sheep horn, 4 ½ x 6 x 6 ¾ in.

In 1883, Hamilton’s “Cabinet,” or Wunderkammer, was remodeled as the Knox Hall of Natural History (present-day Buttrick Hall). In addition to classroom space, the building housed and displayed collections of minerals and specimens of flora and fauna used as teaching tools. The building also housed Native American objects, many of which had been acquired and later donated to the College by alumni missionaries who traveled west throughout the second half of the 19th century. Cultures of the American Southwest, Canadian Northwest, and American Plains are represented through vessels, apparel, and tools.


The Vendors and the Wind

Yun-Fei JI

(Chinese, 1963-) 

The Vendors and the Wind, 2014
Ink and watercolor on Xuan paper, mounted on silk
26 1/8 x 30 3/8 in.

Purchase: William G. Roehrick ’34 Art Acquisition and Preservation Fund

A traditional peddler, hovering above the ground, represents “the untethering of people from their way of life as many Chinese are displaced from their traditional villages and relocated to city centers either by the government or by economic factors,” Alcauskas noted. Yun-Fei Ji’s work explores contemporary issues such as migration, loss of cultural heritage, and environmental destruction through a traditional medium that evokes Song-dynasty scroll painting.

From the Director

“As a teaching museum, we look at the ways every object under consideration for entry into the collection — whether through gift or purchase — can provide numerous access points and be used as a pedagogical tool in a range of disciplines. We consider the aesthetic value of each work alongside the College’s curricular schema and tailor the collection to mirror the liberal arts experience: objects should be multifaceted, dynamic in and of themselves, and able to play a role in educating Hamilton students now and in the future. We invest in emerging artists, supporting and encouraging their development both through commissions for the Wellin’s exhibitions and in our collecting efforts. We seek artists from cultures that are underrepresented and build toward a collection that is diverse culturally, historically, materially, and geographically, and above all, that is thoughtfully curated.”
— Tracy L. Adler, the Johnson-Pote Director, Wellin Museum of Art

By the Numbers

Since its opening in October 2012, the Wellin Museum of Art has welcomed more than 50,000 visitors and featured over 20 original exhibitions. In addition, the museum has hosted some 80 lectures and events, collaborated with professors in more than 60 classes in various areas of study to integrate artwork into coursework, and built an outreach program for local school districts that has so far touched the lives of 5,000 children.

Student Docent Program

The Wellin Museum of Art’s docent program each semester employs about 40 students who serve as educational guides for peers and members of the community. In addition, the student-led Wellin Initiative for Student Engagement (WISE) hosts peer-oriented events throughout the year. Other students work on collection, education, and exhibition-related projects advised by museum staff and often by visiting artists themselves.


“Each exhibition allows different academic disciplines to more fully engage with art and people outside of their curricular focus. … To bring a physics professor in to speak on how [artist] Alyson Shotz references the theories of Einstein allows for a whole different kind of dialogue to take place. It’s a conversation that would seem out of place in either a traditional museum or a science lab, yet at the Wellin, it’s commonplace. So, instead of the museum just being a repository for Hamilton’s growing art collection, the Wellin is more of a hyperconductor for an electrifying conversation between many different and dissimilar academic areas. It brings vibrancy to the community.”
— Teddy Altman ’15, first president of the Wellin Initiative for Student Engagement (WISE)


All material for this story was provided by the Wellin Museum of Art and excerpted generously from Innovative Approaches, Honored Traditions: The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Five Years, Highlights from the Permanent Collection, by Katherine D. Alcauskas, collections and exhibitions specialist.

Contact Information

Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
Back to Top