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E.E. Cummings' art to be unveiled

By Caitlin Pollard
On March 8, 2011

The art department has always put on impressive shows at the Tower Fine Arts Gallery, but perhaps none as impressive as the current show, which shows off a collection of works from American poet E.E. Cummings. This will be the first time in four decades the artwork has been displayed.

Brockport has the most extensive collection of E.E. Cummings' artwork in the world, according to a press release, the collection of 72 artworks was donated during the late '70s and needed restoration before being displayed. In 2006, Francis Short, former dean of the School of the Arts and Performance, became aware of the condition of the artwork and was determined to help restore the works.

"I had been on campus since 1979 and didn't know we had the artwork," he said.

Short said former Interim President John Clark was touring the Tower Fine Arts building in 2004 and saw the works in a closest. He then brought it to the attention of the school. Short said he felt compelled to help after learning about the collection.

"I was the dean of Arts and thought it made sense," he said.

Fifty-one of those works have now been restored and will be exhibited in E.E. Cummings: Painter and Poet from March 4 through April 1, with the exception of March 12 through March 20 for spring break.

Conservators John and Patricia Hamm of Clarence, N.Y. were entrusted with the restoration aspect of the project. Tim Massey, director of the Tower Fine Arts Gallery, was pleased with the choice of conservators.

"We were quite fortunate to have the Hamms in such close proximity to the campus," he said in the press release. "They are highly respected in their field, and their expertise was invaluable when dealing with the myriad of materials Cummings used to create his art."

Stuart Soloway, the art gallery manager, said an old friend of Cummings donated the works.

"[They] were given to the college by Cummings' longtime friend and patron, James Sibley Watson Jr.," he said. "Watson was a classmate of Cummings' at Harvard and a publisher of The Dial, a literary and arts magazine that published some of Cummings' earlier works.

The Hildegarde Lasell Watson Collection of Artworks by E.E. Cummings has been described as biographically and aesthetically important by several Cummings experts."

Both Soloway and Short were unsure exactly why Brockport was the recipient of the works. Short, now dean of the School of Health and Human Performance, said it is still unknown exactly why Watson chose Brockport.

"The real reason is still a bit of a mystery," Short said.  He added that Watson's family was from Rochester and his mother helped found the Memorial Art Gallery.

"Why [Watson] didn't give the whole collection to the Memorial Art Gallery, we don't know," Short said.

Short speculated there may have been a feud between the Watson family and the Gallery at that time, but was unsure. He did say the stories behind the artwork were one of the reasons he was drawn to the collection.

"Once I got involved I got sucked into the interesting stories about the collection," Short said.

He cited the reasoning for Brockport receiving the collection as one of those stories.

Cummings is known for being a preeminent voice of 20th century poetry. He wrote approximately 2,900 poems, two autobiographical novels, four plays and several essays.

The exhibit will be a keystone at pARTy: A Celebration of the Arts at The College at Brockport, in honor of the college's 175th anniversary. This event takes place Friday, April 1, the closing night of the Cummings exhibit.

After the exhibit is done at Tower, the artwork will be placed back in storage to keep them in good condition, Short said. He added there are two initiatives to keep them in the public eye in the future.

Short said one of the possibilities would be to have some displayed on a rotating basis once a new academic building, which is planned to begin after SERC is finished.

"Maybe one third of the collection would be exhibited at any one time," Short said, citing the fragility of the collection as the reason for a rotating schedule.

The second possibility, according to Short, is the exhibit becoming part of an exhibition routine.

"We think there may be some interest," Short said, in regards to shipping the collection around the U.S. and world to interested art galleries.

No matter what initiative is taken, Short said the intention is to give audiences a chance to see the collection.

The Tower Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call (585) 395-2805.

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