Danforth Art Museum Is Back With New England Treasures – Open Studio with Jared Bowen

>>JARED BOWEN: Three years ago,
the Danforth Art Museum received
an abrupt eviction notice, putting its collection of more
than 3,500 works in jeopardy. Down and out, but not undaunted, the museum has a new life
and a gleaming new space, not to mention a
first-of-its-kind partnership. The Danforth Art Museum has
always been a place of and for New England artists. As Framingham’s
only independent art museum, the Danforth has spent
some 40 years amassing a collection
of American art dating as far back
as the early 19th century. But three years ago, that collection
was almost undone.>>A year to the day after I arrived as director
at the Danforth Museum, we received an eviction notice
from the town.>>BOWEN: Debra Petke,
the museum’s director, had just four months to move the Danforth’s entire collection
of more than 3,500 works to a new home.>>The boiler
was a hundred years old in that building, and they couldn’t replace it
because of the cost. So we left. And we were literally homeless.>>BOWEN: With the museum’s
future uncertain, Petke and her team had to make
a tough choice: find a new home fast, or disperse the prized
collection of American art. Fortunately,
she found a new home within Framingham State
University, making it the only public
university in Massachusetts with a museum collection.>>I think having art in your
backyard is a wonderful thing. Here, you know, you can take an
hour and come and look at art. Or come to an opening that…
where it’s easy to park.>>BOWEN: The Danforth reopened
to the public earlier this year in a stately brick building
just off the city’s common. Its brand-new gallery space
offers crowd favorites from the permanent collection, like this painting, titled
“A Village Funeral in Brittany,” finished in 1891 by Boston-born
artist Charles Sprague Pearce.>>When you look at the details
of the painting, you can clearly tell that
he’s looking at photographs– the faces of women
from very young to women who have had a very
difficult, hard-working life.>>It’s very indicative of the late-19th-century
academic painting, particularly that American
artists were doing in Europe.>>BOWEN: Jessica Roscio
is the museum’s curator, and says the collection here
is a hidden gem, featuring some
of the New England area’s most renowned artists.>>It’s an incredibly
high-caliber collection, with names that you might not
necessarily expect to find when you come out here.>>BOWEN: Many artists are from
the Boston School of painters, who studied at
the Museum of Fine Arts and developed their own regional
brand of figure painting.>>They established
this kind of style that was very much
after the Dutch Baroque. Most emblematic
of the Boston School, in the corner, we have Philip
Leslie Hale’s “Glitter,” which is one of my most favorite
pieces in the collection. It is this just
very decorative woman kind of sitting in a Arts and
Crafts interior background with, like, patterned wallpaper.>>BOWEN: Here, you’ll also find
entry into the world of artist
Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller. This is one of the treasures,
I think, of your new museum.>>Yes.>>BOWEN:
Tell me what we find here.>>So, what we have here
is a re-creation of Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller’s
studio. And Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller
was a turn-of-the-20th-century African-American sculptor who moved to Framingham in 1910 and spent the rest of her life
and career here.>>BOWEN: It’s all been
painstakingly recreated, based on a surviving photograph
of Fuller’s Framingham studio documenting
her tools of the trade.>>I think one of the treasures of being gifted the contents
of an artist’s studio is, you really see
how they worked, and we have a lot
of process pieces to really get an idea of how
she was growing as an artist, and the subject matter that was
particularly important to her.>>BOWEN: Fuller’s artistic
journey was not an easy one. She began her career in Paris,
studying the works of Rodin and befriending writer and
activist W.E.B. Du Bois. But she ultimately
spent most of her career balancing her home life
with her artistic practice.>>Her work really references
the development of an African-American identity. So she does pieces
likeEmancipationandEthiopia Awakening,which are works
that are precursors to the Harlem Renaissance. So she’s looking at contemporary
issues that are related to race, that are related to gender.>>BOWEN: She was a bit of an
activist-artist, it sounds like.>>She was, yes. And that’s something
that I’ve come to realize the more time I spend
with the collection, that she was, she was really
quite progressive.>>BOWEN: The new Danforth
has also expanded its contemporary art
programming, with additional gallery space
for rotating exhibitions. And through the university, the museum has the chance
to educate and inspire a new generation of artists,
art lovers, and curious collegiates
of all stripes.>>We need to be
a sounding board. Museums should not be
quiet places, I believe, in any aspect.>>BOWEN: And with a new lease
on life, the Danforth is ready to make
a lot of noise. # #

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