100 Years, 100 Objects

A sampling of treasures from Wheaton’s Permanent Collection and its archives are on display in the student-curated exhibition, “100 Years, 100 Objects,” which celebrates the centenary of Wheaton Female Seminary becoming Wheaton College.

The textiles, paintings, historical documents, sculptures, books and other objects in the show weave a rich narrative of Wheaton’s first century as a four-year college. “100 Years, 100 Objects” investigates the stories associated with the objects, exploring their creators, donors, or the histories tied to the objects themselves. Wheaton was founded in 1834 as a female seminary, that is, a post-secondary school for young women. It was chartered as a college in 1912.

The exhibition was curated and installed by students in “Exhibition Design,” an art history course taught in fall 2012 by Assistant Professor Leah Niederstadt and College Archivist Zeph Stickney. Students researched and selected the objects for the show, authored labels and wall text for visitors, designed the exhibition layout, and physically installed the show.

These two have a romantic story to tell about Priscilla King Gray ’55 and her husband Paul Gray, who served as chairman of Wheaton’s Board of Trustees.

The objects they chose range from works by renowned artists such as Alexander Calder and Wassily Kandinsky to humble memorabilia such as handwritten diaries and a pair of stuffed Humpty Dumpty dolls. The students also incorporated digital media into the project—creating podcasts and an online catalogue. Gallery visitors can access the podcasts by smartphone.

“We want students to realize both the variety and the amount of planning and work required to mount a professional exhibition,” said Niederstadt. “This course enables them to do so, while gaining a deeper understanding of Wheaton’s history and of the many meanings objects hold.”

"Little Blue Oval"
“Little Blue Oval,” 1944, by Alexander Calder. Bequest of Monawee Allen Richards ’34.

Senior Christina Cannon found the project invaluable. “Planning every little detail of an exhibition gives you a new perspective on museums altogether,” she said. “You can only learn so much from readings and lectures. What I really enjoyed about the class was the hands-on experience.”

“100 Years, 100 Objects” is on display in the Beard and Weil Galleries, Watson Fine Arts, through February 15, 2013. Gallery hours are 12:30-4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Cycladic figure