The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Celebrates 30 Years and a Continuing Legacy

When the doors first opened to the public in November 1993 of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, named after the then Vassar trustee, the local and national headlines highlighted the construction of a “world-class art museum” to house the College’s already “exceptional art collection.”

The front entrance of The Loeb featuring double glass doors, a curved awning made of metal and glass above, and flanked by tall red flowering plants.
Photo: Tamar Thibodeau

The architect César Pelli had, in his own words, designed a “symphony in architecture,” combining different spaces, materials, and lighting schemes to create “a series of movements.” The new building offered considerably more room and improved conditions to view Vassar’s art treasures, which had been, by that point, collected since its founding about 130 years before—the first college in the United States to include an art museum as part of its original mission.

The overall complex of structures, incorporating both the new edifice and the renovated Taylor Hall (site of the Art Department, its classrooms, and library), serves as the entrance to the campus alongside the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library fronting on Raymond Avenue. The two connected buildings reinforce the importance of the visual arts and other academic resources in promoting the open exchange of ideas and inquiry in a liberal arts education. As an example, among the almost 30,000 visitors to the Loeb last year, there were 4,492 students from 22 different departments and programs for nearly 250 class sessions (about half of which were in the arts). Moreover, in addition to the hundreds of works of art regularly on display, 619 objects were temporarily pulled from storage to support teaching in the building’s galleries and classrooms.

A guide with a group of children and a teacher view a painting in a gallery.
Vassar Student Guides connect the Loeb to the local community, giving citizens—from kindergartners to senior citizens—tours of the exhibitions.
Photo: Courtesy of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

Every year since 1999, when the first Coordinator for Public Education and Programs position was created, a dozen Vassar undergraduates are hired to work as Student Guides to give all public tours—serving kindergartners to senior citizens and everyone in between. Drawn from all class years and a wide range of disciplines, they give the Loeb a greater ability to connect with visitors on a variety of levels and from a range of perspectives. A current student guide majoring in American studies, now working with the newly endowed Putnam Assistant Director for Learning and Community Engagement, noted the significance of her experiences: “From the class meetings held in the galleries, fervently discussing lithography and curatorial practices, to conversations with eight-year-old patrons about the Hudson River School and how marble is carved into statues, the Loeb has taught me so much about art history, the process of sharing and exchanging ideas, and about myself as a learner and a teacher.”


Save the Date
and help The Loeb celebrate

Wednesday, November 15
5:00–7:00 p.m.

Vassar invites the community to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, 160 years of the collection, and the launch of its new collection catalogue Making & Meaning. Refreshments will be served.

The prominent location of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center intentionally forges a vital link to neighboring communities. The recent expansion of its outreach efforts—including partnerships with the Poughkeepsie City School District, Arlington Central School District, The Art Effect, Celebrating the African Spirit, Dutchess County Historical Society, Locust Grove Estate, and the Poughkeepsie Public Library District—was recognized last June when the Loeb received the Dutchess Award. The accompanying proclamation celebrated its “enriching educational programs and unwavering commitment to fostering creativity and cultural appreciation [that] have greatly enhanced the quality of life for residents of the County and beyond.”

In the 1990 Vassar Quarterly announcement that Frances Lehman Loeb, class of 1928, would provide funding for a new museum—the largest gift ever bestowed on the College by a living individual to date—Mrs. Lehman Loeb was lauded for her generosity: “All her life she has loved art, been inspired by it, and made it accessible to others.” Today, after 30 years, the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center continues to honor a woman whose life of philanthropy and public service embodied the ideals of liberal learning and bolsters the reputation of her alma mater.

T. Barton Thurber is the Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

October 24, 2023
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center