Dominican celebrates century of fine arts
This bronze bust of Lincoln by Gutzon Borglum, whose work appears on Mount Rushmore, is part of Dominican University’s permanent collection. | courtesy of Dominican University
A century of fine arts
What: Dominican University’s celebration of a century of commitment to the arts
Where: on campus at 7900 W. Division St., River Forest.
When: 4 p.m. July 29
Fee: Admission is free.
Details: Participation in the gallery exhibit, art talks and sculpture tour through 5:30 p.m. are limited to 70. The picnic, ice cream social and art activities are open to all.
Updated: August 27, 2012 11:00AM
RIVER FOREST — Appreciation of the fine arts has been an essential part of the curriculum at Dominican University since the school’s earliest precursor, Santa Clara Academy in Wisconsin, began teaching college-level classes in 1901 — and it is still a fundamental concern today.
That’s why Dominican will be celebrating a century of commitment to the arts (with an additional decade for good measure) Sunday afternoon with a community picnic and ice-cream social.
Key pieces from the university’s permanent collection of art will be on display, along with works by Dominican art professor Jeffery Cote de Luna and recent grad Joshua Johnson and a tour will be given of outdoor sculpture on the campus.
Art conservator Barry Bauman will discuss his recent restoration of a major painting in the university’s collection,
The public is invited to bring picnic dinners to the university quad, where representatives of the Oak Park Art League will create plein air paintings and assist children’s art activities. The event will conclude with a free 7 p.m. screening of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film “Hugo.”
None of which could have been foreseeable to Sisters Catherine Wall and Angela Dolan of the Sinsinawa Dominican order, when they were dispatched from Santa Clara Academy at the turn of the last century on a mission to study painting and copy the work of the great masters in Florence, Rome and Munich. Three years later, they returned with 50 canvases and scored a public relations coup by becoming press favorites during their travels around the country, staging demonstrations of their expertise.
“That added considerably to the prestige of the Academy,” said Dominican archivist Steven Szegedi, noting that increased enrollment of female students led to the need for a larger campus and the establishment in 1918 of Rosary College in River Forest (which became Dominican University in 1997).
“The Sinsinawa sisters, many of whom had doctorate degrees, were concerned about providing women with the same opportunities available to men in higher learning,” Szegedi said. “They made a commitment to cultivation of the arts, beginning with music and literature and culture in general, but they were particularly interested in the fine arts.”
The Sinsinawas established one of the earliest junior-year-abroad programs in 1918 for young women to study art and culture at their Institut de Hautes Etudes in Fribourg, Switzerland. Later, when U.S. Steel CEO Myron C. Taylor donated his Villa Schifanoia estate outside Florence to the Holy See on behalf of the Sinsinawa order, the sisters transformed it into a graduate school for the arts, which thrived for decades until the Villa was sold in 1985 by the Vatican.
In the interim, the school cultivated its permanent collection, which currently features roughly 100 major pieces including medieval manuscripts dating to the 1200s, medieval religious sculptures, a Salvador Dali print, a collection of Georges Rouault prints from his “Miserere” series, Henri Riviere landscapes from the 1800s and an early 1960s piece from the German Expressionist painter Otto Neumann.
The school also increased its commitment to stage public exhibitions of art after the opening of its program at Villa Schifanoia. On-campus exhibits featured European tapestries, rare books, the work of Villa Schifanoia faculty and modern art shows by the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Alberto Giacometti and Fernand Leger.
“We have always had a desire to serve as a community resource for the arts,” said Dominican spokeswoman Jessica Mackinnon, though she noted that the school’s commitment to the arts may have flagged a bit after the sale of Villa Schifanoia. “It’s always been there, but just in the past few years, there’s been a strong resurrection of interest. We’re taking steps to preserve our permanent collection, we’ve hired a director for our O’Connor Art Gallery and we’ve been attracting some very talented students.
“That’s one of the reasons we’re holding this celebration, to let people know how rich our artistic past has been, and to reaffirm our commitment the future.”