When Gregory Gilbert, Professor of Art and Art History, came to Knox 24 years ago, one of the first things he wanted to bring to the school was a permanent art gallery.
There were, of course, other things to worry about as a professor at a new school: getting his program up and running, getting tenure, the basics. Gilbert is the only professor in the whole art history department, so running the whole program took up the first five or six years of him being at Knox. Coming from a background in curating, a gallery was always in the back of his mind.
“It was really frustrating not having a gallery,” Gilbert said.
The shift happened when The Office of Advancement contacted Bob Borzello, alumnus and art collector in London. After hearing of Gilbert’s plan for a gallery, he became interested in funding it. Working on receiving his donation — half a million dollars — was a process combining Gilbert traveling to London and Borzello returning to Knox for Homecoming. Gilbert spent months putting together documents to essentially prove to Borzello and President Teresa Amott that Knox had important enough art pieces for a gallery.
Amott’s hiring was a big step towards getting the gallery up and running. During the hiring process for president, Gilbert was able to ask all the candidates questions regarding his department. His first question was predictably: “How interested are you in helping us get an art gallery?” Gilbert said that of course all of the candidates showed interest, but when Amott was hired, she was true to her word and was a real advocate for the gallery.
The gallery was built over the summer of 2018 and opened during Fall Term of last year. There were a total of six shows last year, and it opened this year with Cecil McDonald’s show. Art Department Chair Mark Holmes knew McDonald and was able to plan the exhibit. While Holmes is in charge of more modern day shows, Gilbert is in charge of their permanent exhibit and involving his students in showing it. In his ART 130: Intro to Art Museum Studies class, Gilbert uses the gallery as a teaching tool to allow his students to curate the gallery themselves. He hopes that by getting his students hands on experience, he can better prepare them in his course.
As far as the permanent gallery currently exhibited in CFA, Gilbert has been working on the didactics since the summer. It is more traditionally set up chronologically, starting with medieval illuminations and African pottery and rounding off with pieces from the early 20th century. The highlights of the gallery are the American 20th century works, the old and modern master prints and the diversity of artists displayed.
“We’re trying to expand the cannon and not just have white male artists,” Gilbert said.
His goal with the exhibit, though, is to really show how important the art collection at Knox really is.
“The purpose of this show was to really make clear to the college, the surrounding community, the fact that we actually have some pretty impressive artists and pieces,” Gilbert said.
Among those pieces are an engraving from Albrecht Durer, etchings from Francisco Goya and Edouard Manet, and even Rembrandt.
Gilbert’s next goal is to create a handbook for the gallery in hopes to interest more prospective donors and show more of Knox’s art that didn’t make it into the gallery. With a small staff and minimal budget, he hopes that more money can be invested into the gallery. He is working with Design Professor Tim Stedman on hopefully having it done next year.