On Feb. 9, 1853, state Sen. Wayman Crow introduced a charter in the Missouri legislature creating Eliot Seminary, a new educational institution named in honor of his close friend and pastor, William Greenleaf Eliot.
Yet Eliot, who would direct the school’s Board of Trustees until his death in 1887, was a modest man, and thus Eliot Seminary became, in short succession, Washington Institute of St. Louis (1854), O’Fallon Institute (1855) and, finally, Washington University (1856).
Of course, much else has changed over the past 150 years, and the small school Crow and Eliot founded has grown to national prominence and respect. This fall, Washington University will celebrate that history with Influence 150: 150 Years of Shaping a City, a Nation, the World, an exhibition chronicling key figures, events and discoveries in the life of the university, as well as their roles on the larger historical stage.
Influence 150 opens with a reception from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, in the Gallery of Art and remains on view through Dec. 7. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; and noon to 4:30 p.m. weekends. (The Gallery of Art is closed Mondays.) The exhibit is free and open to the public. The Gallery of Art is located in Steinberg Hall, near the intersection of Skinker and Forsyth boulevards. For more information, call (314) 935-4523.
“Influence 150 examines two major, if parallel, themes,” said Shirley K. Baker, vice chancellor for information technology and dean of University Libraries. “The first is the role of the university in urban American society — that is, how Washington University and St. Louis have each contributed to the growth and development of the other.
“The second is the influence of Washington University as a modern, international institution, and the individuals and groups — chancellors, scholars, immigrants, women — who have helped to shape its identity and reputation.”
The main, upstairs gallery features hundreds of archival photographs, drawings, posters, letters, scrapbooks and other materials illustrating more than 150 individual displays on notable faculty and alumni, their major achievements and broader topics such as the evolution of campus life.
“We wanted to present a balance of stories, ” explained Baker, who chaired a 10-member exhibition committee that included faculty historians, curators and archivists. (The committee also worked with an exhibit design team from BlueRoad Productions, led by Jill Silverstein.) “Some of these are fairly well known, such as the 1904 World’s Fair and the presidential debates in 1992 and 2000. Others, equally fascinating and dramatic, will likely surprise many visitors.”
Examples of both can be found in the tenure of Robert Brookings, chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1895-1928, who spearheaded creation of the present Hilltop Campus. (Highlights of the exhibition include a striking, four-foot drawing of the original, 1895 campus plan by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York’s Central Park; and a five-foot, 1899 drawing of the university’s signature Brookings Hall, by the Philadelphia firm Cope and Stewardson.)
Brookings famously leased the newly completed campus to World’s Fair organizers, using proceeds to fund additional construction, including Francis Field, site of the third World Olympiad (the first Olympics ever held in the Western Hemisphere). Less familiar, however, is Brookings’ launch, in 1917, of a graduate study program in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. — a program that would eventually spawn the world famous Brookings Institution “think tank.”
Profiles and Personalities
Some of the university’s proudest moments, Baker noted, involve “the early entrance of women, the influence of European refugees and the welcoming, during World War II, of Japanese-American students from internment camps.”
Phoebe Couzins, who enrolled in the School of Law in 1869 —just two years after its founding — later helped found the National Woman Suffrage Association. Famed art historian H.W. Janson, author of the influential textbook History of Art, left Hitler’s Germany in the mid-1930s and subsequently established the Gallery of Art’s nationally renowned modern collection. Gyo Obata, who avoided a Utah internment camp by enrolling in the School of Architecture, co-founded Hellmuth, Obata Kassabaum, one of the world’s largest architecture firms.
Other displays chronicle the university’s impressive record of scientific achievement, from the founding of the School of Medicine in 1891 to its current role in decoding the human genome. Profiles include Nobel Prize-winning physicist Arthur H. Compton, a leader of the Manhattan Project; Evarts A. Graham and Ernst L. Wynder, who established, in 1953, a clear link between lung cancer and cigarettes; and Harold Rosenthal, whose St. Louis Baby Tooth Survey (1959-1970) revealed long-term effects of nuclear fallout.
The university’s strong literary tradition has produced two poet laureates, Howard Nemerov and Mona Van Duyn. A section on T.S. Eliot, grandson of William Greenleaf Eliot, features a rarely seen student poem. Tennessee Williams is represented by a typescript of Me Vashya, a 1936-37 student work, among other materials.
Other profiles include filmmaker Henry Hampton, best known for the groundbreaking Civil Rights documentary Eyes on the Prize, and Al Parker, “dean of American illustrators,” who virtually defined the bold, graphic look of fashion monthlies in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.
First Art Museum West of the Mississippi
Lower galleries showcase the University’s nationally acclaimed art collection, which dates back to 1881, when Crow and a young professor named Halsey C. Ives established the St. Louis School and Museum of Fine Arts, the first art museum west of the Mississippi River.
From its very beginnings, the collection focused largely on the work of contemporary artists. Crow, for example, was an early supporter of neo-classical sculptor Harriet Hosmer, one of the few successful woman artists of the time and the first woman to study anatomy at what would become the School of Medicine. Other early acquisitions include such iconic images of the American West as George Caleb Bingham’s Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers Through Cumberland Gap (1851-52) and Carl Wimar’s The Buffalo Hunt (1860).
“The focus was really American art, particularly art celebrating or mythologizing the recent American past,” said Sabine M. Eckmann, Ph.D., curator of the Gallery of Art. Yet Wimar, Eckmann pointed out, also was a German émigré, having arrived in St. Louis in 1843 — a fact that prefigures both Ives’ later emphasis on European art and the subsequent influence of émigrés like Janson and painter Max Beckmann, who joined the School of Art faculty in 1947.
For the collection, as for the university, the World’s Fair ushered in a period of explosive growth. In 1904 and 1905, St. Louis banker Charles Parsons bequeathed some 400 works, including French Salon paintings by Léon Lhermitte and pastoral landscapes by Frederic Church. In 1906, Ives and trustee William K. Bixby established a fund solely for the acquisition of contemporary art, which remains in use today. Over the years, Bixby Fund acquisitions have ranged from Pierre Puvix de Chavannes’s Symbolist allegory La Charité (Charity) (1894) to Joseph Albers’ Homage to the Square: Aurora (1951-55); Jackson Pollock’s Sleeping Effort (1953) and Willem de Kooning’s Saturday Night (1956).
A Gallery of Modern Art
The modern collection, however, truly begins with Janson, who in 1945-46 de-accessioned approximately 120 paintings and 500 works of “applied arts” (including beers steins, book-bindings and 19th-century English china) and used the resulting $40,000 to purchase 40 works by major European and American modernists. Highlights include Pablo Picasso’s early collage Glass and Bottle of Suze (1912), Juan Gris’ Still Life With Playing Cards (1916) and — a century after Wimar came to St. Louis — a new imagining of the American West by another German émigré, Max Ernst’s apocalyptic landscape The Eye of Silence (1943-44).
The tumultuous 1960s are reflected in the slashes and punctures of Lucio Fontana’s brass Spatial Concept, New York 22 (1962); and in Robert Rauschenberg’s Choke (1964), with its amalgam of pop imagery and abstract expressionist brushwork. Most recently, the Gallery of Art has built a strong collection of large-scale photo-based work, especially by female artists. The exhibition concludes with three of these: Counting (1991) by Lorna Simpson; Museum fur Volkerkunde Dresden 1 (1999) by Candida Höfer (Germany’s representative at the 2003 Venice Biennale) and Maton (1969), an early self-portrait by Katharina Sieverding, one of the medium’s true pioneers.
BlueRoad creates interactive environments, including the design and production of interpretive experiences at the Gateway Arch to production of original video and audio programs for Six Flags over Texas and the Putnam Museum of Natural History in Iowa. Founded in 1994 by principal Jill Silverstein, BlueRoad collaborates with architecture, graphic design and fabrication firms on the design and production of interpretive and entertaining exhibits.