Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

A minute with Christopher MacDonald ’10

Christopher MacDonald '10Christopher MacDonald, a double major in English literature and music, is a man of many talents. He has found a way to showcase an amazing array of them.

A unique voice: “My voice is different from that of most other men. I am a male mezzo-soprano, which means that I have a vocal range that lies about an octave or so higher than that of an average baritone. Not only is this something rare and exciting, but it also allows me to perform repertoire that has been inaccessible to the male voice for years and to make new statements with other repertoire.” Talent show: “I write a political commentary column for the Wheaton Wire, sing in and conduct the Wheaton Chorale, play and take lessons for organ, and study conducting. I am the vice chair of the Appellate Board, and a member of the nonpartisan think tank the Roosevelt Institute, for which I am writing a federal transportation policy proposal. I am a senator in the Student Government Association, as well as the Dean of Senate. This semester, I am working with Public Safety and Student Life to reform Wheaton’s sanctioning system into something more comprehensible. I represent Cragin Hall. I work in the library and as the music department assistant. I have also worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins since last May. I will move to Washington, D.C., after graduation to work in her office before going to law school.” Harmony between music and politics: “For centuries, music has been inextricably associated with culture—expressing or representing it, or, in some cases, defining it altogether. Historically, musical and political happenings have always shared a reciprocal relationship. There are countless examples of how music and politics intersect. Both are interests that Wheaton has allowed me to develop concurrently. For example, in my music senior seminar, we are examining the role of music in the formation of English national identity. And in a political science class in fall 2009, when we created political campaign ads for ourselves, I was able to experiment with the influence of music in such settings." Q

Musical collaboration a hit

Katherine Anderson '10 and Ted Nesi '07 perform in the musical Curtains.The catchy tunes. The flashy costumes. The over-the-top performances. Musicals are so easy to love.

But they can be pricey and labor intensive to produce. Luckily, before they graduated, Wheaton alums Austin Simko ’09 and Alexander Grover ’09 worked to ensure that Wheaton students could be involved in a musical every year. Previously, musicals were produced at Wheaton every three or four years, with the support of an endowed fund.

Teaming up with students, faculty and staff members, Simko (the 2008–2009 Student Government Association president) and Grover (former leader of The Gentlemen Callers) helped to forge a partnership between Wheaton and the local Triboro Musical Theatre last year. This January for the second consecutive year, college students and the Attleboro, Mass.–based theatre troupe presented a musical and continued to strengthen the partnership in which both sides benefit.

This year’s musical, Curtains, was performed at the Weber Theatre. It featured eight Wheaton students, as well as four alums—Katherine Anderson ’10, Shannon Coco ’11, Hilary Emerson ’10, Raul Gil ’12, David Lopes ’10, Allison McMaster ’10, Ted Nesi ’07, Amanda Nelson ’07, Laura Norton ’12, Tom Norton ’09 (in the orchestra), Laura Peters ’10 and Jen Valentino ’09.

Curtains, the musicalAnderson, a music major who is the liaison between Wheaton and Triboro theatre, said she has enjoyed the collaboration. She starred as Niki Harris, a young ingénue who falls in love with a detective played by Nesi.

“Working with the Triboro theatre, you are inundated with the most rich and fulfilling musical theatre experience possible,” she said. “On top of that, you are guaranteed the company of interesting, responsible, caring and all-around wonderful people.”

Vivian Humphrey, the artistic/administrative director of both the Triboro Youth Theatre and the Triboro Musical Theatre, directed and produced Curtains. She said that she has welcomed the opportunity to tap into the skills of students who, in addition to acting, have also filled roles as costume designer, stage manager and orchestra member.

“For some Wheaton students this is the second Triboro Musical Theatre show they have participated in, and I have seen their growth and their understanding being brought to their performances,” said Humphrey. “They accepted any challenge we threw at them, and met and surpassed these challenges with enthusiasm.”

Several Wheaton students and alums had been involved with the Triboro theatre long before the partnership was created, including Nesi, who was the male lead in Curtains.

He had been acting with the Triboro Youth Theatre since he was in sixth grade. Playing the raincoat-wearing singing detective in Curtains was a dream come true for him because it was the first time he got to perform on stage at Wheaton.

“Triboro Youth Theatre is one of the small number of institutions that shaped who I am—Wheaton being another,” said Nesi, a reporter for Providence Business News. “It’s a treat that I can continue to be a part of it. Plus, let’s be honest—I’m a ham and I’ll take any excuse to perform.

“What was wonderful about this collaboration was the way both sides could bring different things to the partnership to create something bigger,” he said. “It would have been difficult for either side to put on Curtains alone, but by coming together we were able to do something great for the audience and the actors.

“Triboro brought its years of experience, professional staff and its company of actors. Wheaton provided the theatre, rehearsal space and other support, and showed once again how committed it is to collaborating with and supporting the community it calls home.” Q

Leaving a permanent impression

When Ann Murray, art history professor and director of Beard and Weil Galleries, arrived on campus in the fall of 1974 she immediately took on one of her biggest challenges— organizing, documenting and protecting Wheaton’s art collection.

That scattered collection of items, in Murray’s hands, has become the college’s very cohesive Permanent Collection. As she retires in May, the collection—along with the many gallery exhibitions she curated—stands as a testament to her many accomplishments at Wheaton.

Wheaton’s eclectic collection consists of paintings, drawings and prints, as well as sculptures, antiquities, textiles, artists’ books, Native American baskets and decorative arts. Original prints by Dali, Goya, Miró, Picasso, Rembrandt and Whistler are among the items.

And it is an accessible collection. As Murray points out: There are not many places where a student can hold (in a gloved hand) an original etching by Rembrandt.

Hunting for treasure

Gignoux, Autumn

Autumn by Régis François Gignoux, circa 1860–1862. Gift of Mrs. Thomas (Mary Rich) Richardson.

Surprisingly, the effort to gather together all of the works comprising the Permanent Collection (which was not even in Murray’s job description) began like a game of hide-and-seek, because many of them were all over campus. Shortly after she arrived at Wheaton, armed with a list and accompanied by her part-time gallery assistant, she would go on what she calls a “treasure hunt.”

“We would go on expeditions around campus looking for paintings, because we had found lists of works that were supposed to be here. But we didn’t know where they were,” she says. “Administrative offices sometimes had paintings, and when people would leave, they would just put the painting that had been hanging on the wall in a closet. And then the next person who came might or might not think to bring it back. It might just stay in the closet for a long time.”

Surprising “finds”

Dürer, The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son by Albrecht Dürer, 1496. Gift of Mrs. Newton G. Loud (Helen Lewis, Class of 1921).

Some works were found in a former barn behind a campus house located across the street from Murray’s Watson Fine Arts office. Some were found stored in a crawl space under a heating duct in Watson, several more in the attic of the library, and elsewhere. Not unsurprisingly, many of the found works were not in good condition. So Murray has spent a great deal of time having pieces restored, with the support of grants and gifts.

The college has received several grants from what is now the Massachusetts Cultural Council on the Arts, as well as from The Bay and Paul Foundations in New York. The Wheaton College Friends of Art has provided generous funding for conservation over the past several years and continues to do so. Most recently the college received a $5,000 grant for conservation from the Cricket Foundation, which was matched by the Friends of Art.

The majority of paintings in the collection have undergone conservation, but the work is ongoing, notes Murray. Much of that has been done by painting conservator Susan Werner O’Day ’77, one of Murray’s early students.

Daumier, Le Placeur

Le Placeur by Honoré Victorin Daumier, 1842, purchased with Shippee Memorial Fund.

For many years, students worked with Murray on the collection, gathering data and cataloging information. Gradually, they compiled a database that eliminated the need for accession cards.

Applauding Murray

College Archivist Zephorene Stickney praises Murray for her dedicated efforts: “Ann is to be applauded not only for bringing together the Permanent Collection, but also for realizing that there was a collection scattered about the campus, and convincing those of us who had artworks to have them accessioned as part of the collection and moved to Watson.”

Now Leah Niederstadt, assistant professor of museum studies, is in charge of the collection. Before she began in 2008, there was no designated collections curator. Murray did the job, along with all of her other responsibilities.

Niederstadt recently worked with Kayla Malouin ’10, who curated Collection/ Reflection: A History of Wheaton’s Permanent Collection. The exhibition, on display in March and April in Beard Gallery, highlighted the vital role that individuals and families have played in building the collection through their donations of art.

In addition to the work on the collection, Murray by the end of this year will have curated 143 shows in the galleries (currently up to nine per year), which is what she was originally hired to do.

Wedgwood candlestick

Candlestick, Wedgwood company, 1925. Gift of Dr. Victoria Cass, Class of 1934.

Stickney points out that the professor also gave the collection an academic focus by using it to teach students.

Murray has taught 19th- and 20th-century art history courses, senior seminars, and lectured in the team-taught art history survey. The last senior seminar she taught produced an exhibition called The Realist Impulse: Painting and Sculpture from the Wheaton College Collection, 1830–1940. Eleven students researched and wrote essays on 58 works of art that are now documented in a 132-page catalog. Another exhibition and catalog—An American Composer Looks at Egypt: Ruth Lynda Deyo and the Diadem of Stars (1999)—led to research that Murray plans to continue after she retires.

Looking back, she says, one of the most rewarding experiences has been working on the catalogs with students and watching them gain valuable research skills as they dug for firsthand knowledge.

“The joy of finding things out that you didn’t know before and finding out that, in fact, it was really quite important, and helping students to make those discoveries, has been great,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed it all.” Q

Diving into technology

Whenever Brandon Waltz ’11 explores the Internet, he says he is always drawn to interactive web sites that have visual special effects and lots of “other bells and whistles.”

“I always tell myself, ‘I want to do that. I want to be the one who produces something like this,’” he said.

This winter the computer major sharpened his skills to do just that. He and several other students gave up part of their winter break to take the new January Technology Immersion Program, which offered two weeks of intensive, all-day study in graphic and web design. The brainchild of faculty technology liaison Jenni Lund, the class was taught by faculty technology liaisons Patrick Rashleigh and Ken Davignon.

Park web site

Waltz dove into the web design class. Working on a team of three, he helped design a web page for “clients” Professor of Psychology Grace Baron and College Archivist Zephorene Stickney. (Another team redesigned web pages for a local food pantry.) The web page, which is located on Wheaton’s redesigned site, highlighted “The Art and Life of Jessica Park: Windows on the World of Autism” exhibit that was on display at the library from March 1 to April 11.

“I was basically the chief engineer,” said Waltz. “I had a good understanding of what the client wanted, and a good arsenal of skills, which I have gained through my major, to get it done. Our group was constrained from the start because we knew that we were essentially constructing a prototype/suggestion site that needed to fall within the recently redesigned Wheaton web site. We knew that Wheaton’s real web team might not want to use it. So designwise we didn’t have much leeway.

“The biggest challenge that I had to work through was trying to use the template that was given to us, decipher all the professional HTML and CSS code to make our changes, to make the site more or less the way we wanted it to be. So my overall goal was to make it as close to the Wheaton site as possible, and good enough.”

It was more than good enough, noted Baron, who was delighted with the design. “Brandon’s enthusiasm was evident from the start, and he, too, has helped to give us a window on the world of autism,” she said.

Kenya Bryant ’12, a sociology major, took the graphic design class. She wanted to help broaden her choices for summer opportunities.

“This summer I’m applying for internships in advertising, magazine publishing and marketing,” she said. “Most of the programs I’ve looked into ask if you have experience with Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Since I’ve never been introduced to either, I thought the class would be helpful.”

The most valuable lesson she (and likely the other students) learned? “Patience,” she said. Q