What started as a casual chat between colleagues became a hands-on research project that will immortalize the work of Centre College students in the Norton Center permanent art collection archives.
In January of 2023, Associate Professor of Art History Amy Frederick and Norton Center Engagement Services Manager Molly Baker sat down to discuss artwork in the Norton Center’s permanent art collection. The pair initially connected over printmaking- Baker was beginning research on a collection of prints that related to the Norton Center’s debut 1973 exhibition, and Frederick’s expertise in art history is printmaking.
The complete print collection under discussion was the Peace Portfolio I– a set of 12 prints produced in 1970 meant to raise funds for congressional candidates who wished to end fighting in the Vietnam War. Serendipitously, Frederick was planning coursework for her Art and Social Justice course in the upcoming spring semester, with a focus on art as protest.
Generally, the ability to look at artwork first-hand is not accessible to student researchers. Realizing this portfolio would provide the perfect hands-on opportunity for her class, Frederick began planning a cross-campus collaborative project: each of her students would select one piece from the portfolio and conduct thorough research that would be presented in their papers.
“Not only would it be an exciting challenge for Centre art history students to uncover information about a rarely seen but culturally significant portfolio,” said Baker, “but it would also provide scholarly service to the Norton Center as we refine our collection records.”
Meanwhile, it was decided that the Peace Portfolio would be featured in the Norton Center’s 50th Anniversary Exhibition, and Baker knew immediately that she wanted to showcase the students’ research with the displayed prints.
Their final papers included information about the Peace Portfolio that, until now, had never been collected and presented in such a way. Artist biographies, comparisons to other works and other contextual information provided a closer look at the motivations of these artists.
“The long-term idea was to write papers that would be accessible to a general audience, which is a very different way of writing and communicating as opposed to a strict academic research paper,” said Frederick. “I wanted them to translate their scholarly research into words that a general audience can understand.”
Now, with the exhibition installation on the horizon, Frederick and Baker are condensing these papers into individual labels that will accompany each piece displayed in the Norton Center Grand Foyer. These labels will help Norton Center guests understand each of the pieces within the context of protest art- and will be a chance to see original research produced by Centre students in a public space.
The research will accompany their respective pieces in the official Norton Center art archive, where the information can be accessed long into the future.
“Experiential learning is a critical part of Centre’s educational mission,” said Baker. “Providing space in the exhibition for students to not only share their research, but to be credited as exhibition label authors, is a unique and special opportunity for all of us. The Norton Center strives to be a site for collaboration with all of Centre’s academic divisions, and this is just another example of how working with faculty and students can generate exciting and original educational outcomes.”
Frederick also authored an original piece for the fall 2023 CentreStage program, discussing the historical and present-day significance of the Peace Portfolio.
“I just love working with the Norton Center,” said Frederick. “I love students getting to have these experiences of what curators and art historians actually do. This is a very real-life collaboration.”
The 50th Anniversary Exhibition will open on August 14. It is free and open to the public Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.