Vassar Today

Art for Bakers, and Other Notions at the Loeb Center

Jamar Sylvester, a second grader at Poughkeepsie’s Warring Elementary School, plunged his arm into a paper bag and told his classmates that he felt something “furry” inside. One of his classmates, anxious to be the first to find a similar “furry” object in one of the paintings on the wall in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center’s (FLLAC) main gallery, jumped up, pointed to the frizzy tuft of hair on a formal portrait of Matthew Vassar, and shouted, “It’s there! On his head!”

A scavenger hunt may be an unusual introduction to a college art museum; but a new program of public education and community outreach by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is making art accessible to a range of sometimes untraditional visitors.

Funded by a three-year grant from the Jane W. Nuhn Charitable Trust, the outreach program was created to facilitate a stronger relationship between the gallery and the community. Monica Church, a painter in her own right, directs it. When Church began administering the program last September, she was determined to “set up an infrastructure that would be sustainable and would make strong ties to the community.” Her hope is that even though the grant money might run out, the impetus of the program will remain intact.

Church began by strengthening the ties between the Vassar College community and the art center, making it easier for professors in a variety of disciplines to incorporate museum holdings into their curricula.
“You don’t have a great community outreach program if you don’t have great support from within,” Church said in February interview. Faculty teaching courses in subjects as diverse as chemistry, American modernism, and history have worked with Church and other Loeb Center staff to bring art resources into their curricula.

Church also worked with the office of student employment to create a program in which Vassar students are trained as docents and lead community groups, student groups, and individuals through the galleries, sharing scholarly and anecdotal information about the art, as well as information about their experiences as Vassar students.

During this past spring semester, 14 student docents, who were majoring in a variety of subjects, spent one hour per week meeting with Church to learn about the museum’s holdings. Each student docent also researched a specific area of the collection, such as women and art or baroque and medieval iconography, presented their findings to their fellow docents, and incorporated the information into tours.

Numerous groups have taken advantage of the program since it began, including one from the Museum of American Folk Art; several classes of bakers from the Culinary
Institute of America (who were in search of beautiful lines and forms they could later reproduce in pastries); and children of all ages from schools in the Mid-Hudson Valley.