Buddhist Blessings Open Loeb Exhibition of Tibetan Art
Many of the paintings and other objects in Mastery and Merit: Tibetan Art from the Jack Shear Collection, an exhibition at Vassar’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, are traditionally used in Buddhist teaching and religious practice. So it was appropriate that Lama Tashi Topgyal, a Buddhist teacher from the Kunzang Palchen Ling monastery in nearby Red Hook, was invited to the campus by members of the college’s Buddhist Sangha Community to ritually bless the exhibit as it opened on March 4.
About 20 members of the Vassar community—students, faculty, and members of the Loeb staff—toured the exhibit as Lama Topgyal explained each object’s significance. Then he blessed the entire exhibit, tossing small handfuls of consecrated rice beneath each object.
The 30 paintings and other objects in the exhibit were part of the collection of Jack Shear, photographer, curator and executive director of the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation in nearby Spencertown, NY.
Shear, who owns numerous collections in many genres of art, said it was fitting that he had decided to donate these spiritual works of art at this time in his life. “I’ve always been interested in spirituality, and as I began to think about my own mortality, it was important to me to find a way to share this collection,” he said following the ceremony. “It’s something everyone who owns art should be doing.”
Edward Cai ’22, president of the Buddhist Sangha Community, said he was grateful to Shear and to the Loeb for bringing the exhibit to the campus and for enabling Lama Topgyal to conduct the ritual blessing. ”The blessing of the exhibition space was a way of respecting the religious significance of these Thangkas (scroll paintings),” said Cai, an Asian Studies and Chinese major with a concentration in Tibetan Buddhism. “While being presented in a museum, we appreciate its historical, cultural, and aesthetic value while also honoring and acknowledging its original context and meaning. By blessing the space, we are making it appropriate for the religious objects—cleansing and purifying the space so it is acceptable and proper.”
Cai said he had visited the Kunzang Palchen Ling monastery several times and that Lama Topgyal had helped him conduct research for his senior thesis. “This was a wonderful opportunity to show the Vassar community the impact and significance of Tibetan Buddhism in the local community,” he said. “I hope we can continue to find ways to bring the Vassar community closer to the local Buddhist community.”
T. Barton Thurber, the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Loeb, said it was gratifying for the art center to host the event. “It was an extremely special occasion to welcome Lama Topgyal, the donor, Jack Shear, and representatives of the academic institutions to the ceremony,” Thurber said. “It seemed like the passing of a torch, from someone who had collected these rare and exceptional objects to the museums that will care, preserve, and interpret them in perpetuity—all of which was done with the support of a spiritual guide, students, and faculty advisors to enhance everyone's appreciation of Tibetan culture.”
Shear also donated other works from his Tibetan art collection to the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and the Williams College Museum of Art. Each institution has acquired a third of the more than 60 objects, and the collection will be considered a shared whole, accessible to all partners, and providing a rich source of ongoing collaborations including coursework, publications, and exhibitions.