A grand vision for Queen’s art history program
I wrote in the Preface of a 1984 art exhibition catalogue entitled Age of Rembrandt: “It has long been my hope that in art history and art conservation, Queen’s may one day become the Oberlin [College] of Canada, and that its students will share my excitement and discover answers to many . . . fascinating [art history] puzzles.”
In the past 27 years there have been changes that make any reference to Oberlin as a model for Queen’s amusing – or perhaps sad – to knowledgeable art historians.
When I was a student at Queen’s in the early 1940s, the University had no art history courses, no art museum, and no art conservation program. Meanwhile, Oberlin College and Conservatory in Oberlin, Ohio, had that human masterpiece, Wolfgang Stechow, the greatest teacher of art history in the United States. His extensive background from his European education and his devotion to his subject and his students were an inspiration. The Allen Art Museum at Oberlin acquired many true masterpieces of European art as a result of his guidance. I, too, benefited greatly from his advice and friendship for many years.
By 1984, Queen’s had Art History and Art Conservation programs and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, and I looked to Oberlin as a model. Since then there have been many changes at both institutions.
Queen’s has had some great Art History teachers at the Agnes: David McTavish, Volker Manuth and Stephanie Dickey and, for the last 10 years, a great Bader Curator of European Art in David de Witt, MA’94, PhD’00. Both Queen’s and Oberlin have art conservation programs, although I do not know enough about Oberlin’s to compare them. Certainly today Queen’s has the best art history program in Canada.
I’ve been very disappointed with the management of the museum at Oberlin. Some years ago I wanted to fund an exhibition there of the paintings Stechow had helped bring to the College. It would have given great pleasure to Stechow’s widow, Ursula, and their family as well as the whole community of those who loved and admired him and the Allen Art Museum. However, the director at the time was more interested in modern paintings than in old masters, and so he did not take me up on my offer.
My dream now is that Queen’s will continue to acquire great paintings, to arrange interesting exhibitions, and to have great teachers who care and inspire excellent students. Then Queen’s will be the best school in art history not only in Canada but hopefully in North America.