Portrait Exhibit Inspires Student Art


Izhaar Rosa ’22

Students view the portrait exhibit with Ms. Terri Moore, instructor in art.

For the next month, Main Hallway will be filled with portraits of local residents from the 18th and 19th centuries. These paintings are the first part of an exhibition called “Common Ground: A Dialog In Portraits.” In the second semester, Prep and Lower Mid Visual Arts students will create works to be hung alongside the historical pieces. 

The inspiration for this project was sparked 18 months ago when Ms. Terri Moore, instructor in art and director of the Tremaine Gallery, attended an artist talk on 18th century portraits of affluent white Americans with African-American artist Mr. Horace Ballard, curator of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). Ms. Moore said, “[Mr. Ballard] loves how [the portraits] are about narrative and not just the truth, about the history of wealth and affluent, and how they are coming in from Europe and into Modernism.”

Ms. Moore decided to bring a similar experience to campus with the help of Ms. Joan Baldwin, interim director of Edsel Ford Memorial Library and curator of Special Collections, who collected portraits from the local area for the exhibition. Ms. Moore’s first impression of the collection was that the portraits were of predominantly white individuals. Ms. Moore said, “That’s [reflective of] what was happening in this area at the time. The reality [of that time period] is in these portraits.”

Ms. Moore worked with Mr. Brad Faus, program director of art and instructor in art and design, and Dr. Stephanie Sparling Williams, a black feminist theorist and associate curator at Mt. Holyoke College, to gather different perspectives on the exhibit. In addition to working as the project’s visiting art historian, Dr. Williams gave a virtual lecture to Arts students and has been visiting their classes since April 13. 

The exhibition is closely linked to the Prep and Lower Mid Visual Art students’ study of portraiture. Each student is creating a self-portrait in response to a piece from the collection that resonates with them. Several student curators will work with Ms. Baldwin to select six to eight student pieces to be displayed next to the 18th or 19th century portrait that inspired them. Ms. Moore said, “It is going to create a third space of conversation and narration that happens between the historical portraits and the student works. Viewers of this show will be looking at a traditional portrait along with all of its responses. There will be many voices.”

Prep and Lower Mid art students have expressed appreciation for the learning opportunity the portrait project provides. Megan Ho ’23, a Lower Mid visual art student, reflected, “This project helped me [to] hone new skills, explore new techniques, and discover new artists. [Finding] ways to express myself other than through words is helping me document some of the feelings I’m experiencing.” 

Student work will be installed in the Rotunda on April 23 and will hang until May 17.