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INTERVIEW

LYNN CLOUSER
Curator - Drexel Art Collection
by Joseph Glantz
ORIGINAL PHILADELPHIANS - 2018

My background is actually all behind the scenes work in museums. I got my undergraduate degree in art conservation at the University of Delaware. My graduate degree is in art and museum studies from Georgetown University.

I always intended to be a registrar or a collection manager. I started working here in 2012. When you work in a small collection like this you're a little bit of everything. I started here as an assistant curator, under the curator Jacqueline DeGroff, but I was more the collection manager. When she retired, it all fell to me and again with a small collection you do everything. So, I still do behind the scenes work, which I love. But really the majority of my job is now curating and working with students and artists and other collections to create exhibitions, which I have found I really enjoy. 

Can you say who some of your influences were?

I worked in the curatorial department at Winterthur Museum. My boss and mentor there was Leslie Grigsby. She is the curator of ceramics. I was a cataloguer there so I was definitely in the curatorial department and I did little bits of curatorial work like objects of the month for Facebook. So, I learned a little bit more about the research and presenting to the public aspect there. I also selected a set of spoons for a display in the silver section, working with Ann Wagner, the curator of decorative arts – primarily metals. So, yeah, there were little bits of curatorial education through my job at Winterthur especially with Leslie and Ann, and those two really helped introduce me to the field. 

Now, I work closely with a lot of the museum field heavy hitters that Drexel has. Dr. Danielle Rice, Professor Derek Gillman, and Professor Lily (Elizabeth) Milroy, and each one of them has helped me tremendously with my career and helping me learn as I go. 

And what do they do at Drexel?

Danielle Rice is the head of the museum leadership graduate program. Derek Gilman is a special guest professor/instructor and the senior advisor to the President on collections. . Lily Milroy is the head of the new art and art history program. Having them as kind of sounding boards here is great.

Do you interact with other curators around the city? I'm thinking there's an interesting exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that shows the collection of John Graver Johnson, who was Anthony Drexel’s lawyer.

At times I am in touch with other curators and conservators. The most recent contact has been about museum stanchions and barriers and the appropriate distances they should be from the artwork. I did an exhibition on Larry Clark in 2015 – on his Tulsa series which is a graphic series. Our gallery is, you know, it's a hallway. Everybody has to go down it. Luckily, it was the 25-year anniversary of his coming of age film Kids, 1995, which meant a lot of other collections were putting up exhibitions. I contacted the curators at Franklin and Marshall about their Tulsa exhibition to see how they were handling the display of the somewhat graphic art - and the disclaimers they wrote. They were lucky enough to have their display in a basement where visitors had to make the choice to go inside. We didn’t have that option – so, I had to come up with another plan for ours which I think ended up being very successful. We added black vinyl strips on the sides of all the cases to act as a kind of blinder, so people had to walk around and stand directly in front of the cases to see the photographs. If they simply walked down the hallway, the images were not very visible.

I’ve contacted and worked with Anna O. Marley at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. And some of the archivists and librarians at the Delaware Art Museum and the Brandywine River Museum. My hope is that I will be able to connect more with my peers around the Philadelphia area. 

Can you speak to the reasons visitors enjoy the exhibits? Is it the artist’s craft – how they create their works? Is it the fascination with the history of the period that the art is reflecting? Is it the cultural aspect of the art?

The Drexel Collection’s main audience is the students who go here and the faculty and staff. I think a lot of the interest with the displays and exhibits is surprise and fascination that Drexel has such a collection. When I go to curate an exhibition, we only have about 6,000 pieces in our collection, so I’m limited in what I can do, but I try to produce exhibitions that cover as many aspects and angles of the art as possible, from materials and techniques, to function, to cultural and historical context. 

TITLE: Portrait of a Man
ARTIST: Drexel, Francis Martin 1792 - 1863
DATE: 1820
PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States
MEDIUM: Oil, canvas
DIMENSIONS: 29 5/8x23 1/2 in
DONOR: University Purchase, 2012
ACCESSION NUMBER: 12.004.0001
I think since the majority of our “visitors” are also repeat customers (students and faculty going to class throughout the week) at first they’re just surprised and it’s a very cursory interest, but over the course of the academic term more and more faculty and students stop to look at the exhibitions and permanent displays because they start to notice things that draw their interest, that could be anything from the objects’ history to its form to its function, and then they take the time to read the information provided. 

Originally about a million dollars was invested to create some sort of collection. What were the goals of the promoters of the collection? 

Yes. A million dollars in the 1880s! It was to establish and maintain a collection. How much of that million dollars actually went to purchase the artwork is still up for question. The original guidelines for the collection were to use the collection as a teaching tool. They wanted objects that represented good design to be able to teach good design. Drexel had woodworking students, art students, and architecture students all of whom could benefit from the artwork in the Drexel Museum. Part of Drexel President James A. MacAlister's task was to purchase items that represented design across cultures and across mediums. That is why we have this eclectic collection. 

Another possible reason for the collection was for it to be a kind of a design museum to improve American designs in the arts. At the Worlds’ Fairs in the 19th century, the United States did not have a great representation of their style. The other countries were doing beautiful work and ours was not keeping up. So, Drexel wanted to be able to teach good design so American work would be on par with those pieces found at the World's Fairs. To do this, a lot of our pieces were actually purchased from World’s Fairs such as the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 and at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

How and why did Drexel acquire their Asian art? 

We actually have a whole show on the Asian art collection in our Peck Alumni Center gallery. When James A. MacAlister the president of the university, went abroad to purchase artwork in 1891, he worked with the director of the South Kensington Museum, now called the Victoria and Albert Museum (in England). The keeper of the Indian Museum which was under the South Kensington Museum, helped MacAlister purchase individual pieces and collections of art. The keeper’s name was Sir Caspar Purdon Clarke. Sir Clarke’s influence is why we have a large collection of Asian and especially Middle Eastern artwork.



The majority of our Asian materials are from the earliest purchases that MacAlister made and his being influenced by the keeper of the South Kensington museum as well as the early donations to the collection of pieces purchased at World’s Fairs around the time of the founding of Drexel. We also have a number of pieces that were donated to Drexel through the College of Medicine from Dr. Alma Dea Morani. Dr. Morani was the first female plastic surgeon. She studied and taught at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania where she established an art gallery of her artwork and collections. As a plastic surgeon she spent a significant amount of time working abroad in a number of southeast Asian countries. She would receive gifts or purchase artwork while abroad and a large portion of these pieces are still in the collection today.

In addition to the purchases by President MacAlister, where did the other Drexel Art Collection works come from?

There were several donations from various estates, such as the estates of Anthony J. Drexel and George W. Childs. More recently, there have been some donations from artists as well as collectors with pieces by the artists associated with the Howard Pyle exhibit from last spring. We have interesting illustrations coming in now because people, through our exhibits, are realizing what the Drexel Collection is. I think it’s also important that the donors know how the collection is used by students to get hands-on experience and access to artifacts, whether they are art history majors, English students or from the School of Public Health. The artwork isn’t just being hidden away or stagnant on the walls, it’s an actively used and enjoyed collection.

Do you seek out collectors or do you let the collectors come to you?

For the most part, we kind of wait for the art to come to us. There are certain people we know. For example, with the Pyle show, we worked with John Schoonover who's the grandson of Frank E. Schoonover, an illustration artist who studied here under Howard Pyle in the 1890s. That's definitely a relationship that we want to keep. We currently have a long-term loan piece from him that is on display in the Peck Center and we are arranging the donation of two sketches by Frank E. Schoonover completed while he was a student at Drexel.

A lot of people from the Drexel family are still pretty active in donating to us. Not many people have the perfect space for the giant portrait of an ancestor, but we do, and they’ve been very generous in donating those pieces to the Collection.

Alumni and faculty also contribute some of their art. We have recent art pieces from an alum of Drexel engineering and the head of the Gershon Benjamin Foundation. I have works of art by Tokujiro Nishi, one of which is in my office titled Frieberg, Germany. His daughter-in-law actually works at Drexel and we did an exhibition of his work in 2012, and they recently donated eleven pieces. 

We also are interested in portraits by Francis Martin Drexel, A.J. Drexel’s father. There's a lot of portraits by him out and about so people do reach out to us about him.



We also have three portraits by Cecilia Beaux. She was a leading female portrait artist here in Philadelphia and one of the first full time female faculty members at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. 

Drexel itself, as an institute, was co-ed from the beginning with a large proportion of the students women. I think about a third of the illustration classes taught by Howard Pyle was female - an unheard of proportion back in the 1890s. Howard Pyle, who was the father of American illustration, taught illustration at the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry (now Drexel University) and was very supportive of his female students. He helped women get the big commissions and encouraged them in their fields. Definitely, some pretty successful female artists came out of Drexel including Violet Oakley, Elizabeth Shippen Green, Jessie Willcox Smith, Alice Barber Stephens, Anna and Ethel Betts and Sarah Stilwell Weber. 

It would be fantastic to be able to collect some more of the other female artists who studied here. I think it would really give a sense of how from the beginning Drexel has been so inclusive. It would be a great exhibition. 

Can you speak about the work you do with the students to get them involved with the exhibitions? 

This is probably my favorite part of my job. When I started, it was the first year that we had a museum leadership graduate program in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. About two years later, Drexel University’s offerings expanded to include an undergraduate degree in art and art history. So, it's a great time to be at Drexel working in the collections. These two programs created a fantastic pool of students that can be pulled from to work in the collections. 

As for the students, I think the programs, partnering with the collection, offer a unique education. Not many first-year graduate students in other museum related fields get to curate an entire exhibition in their first term, but that’s what we do here. Every other year, the museum leadership program offers a course in exhibition planning and programming and the students are assigned the task of curating an exhibition in our Rincliffe Gallery over their 10-week term.

The first class I worked with on the Exhibitions Planning & Programming course did an exhibition on toys, nostalgia and memories drawing from the collections’ expansive toy and dollhouse miniature collection. At first, it was terrifying to hand over an exhibition to students and to try to pin them down - for example, I need labels NOW. But we all learned a lot from the process and I think the students really loved getting their hands dirty with the exhibition details, especially installation week. The second iteration of the course was this past fall, 2017, where students created an exquisite exhibition on drinking vessels from the Drexel and Salzberg collections. This exhibition and class had the added difficulty, or learning opportunity, of including loan items which students had to condition, report, pack and transport at both ends of the exhibition, not to mention complete the loan paperwork. Again, this was an excellent learning experience for both the students and myself and I’m looking forward to the next course in 2019. 









Lynn Clouser. Director, Drexel Art Collection

The Drexel Collection was founded in 1891 as one of the original departments of the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry. Modeled after the South Kensington Museum in London (now the Victoria and Albert), the museum was intended to showcase quality design in the decorative and industrial arts both for study by students and for the “popular education of the city.”

How did you become interested in working as a curator?
One of the interesting things in the Gallery Room is the two different sets of landscapes on the same wall. I read a comment by you that they were both from the same time period, the same city, and purchased by people with the same wealth, more or less, but their artwork is very different. 

Totally different. The way we have it installed on our south wall, which is the long salon-style hung wall across from the entrance, we have A.J. Drexel's landscape collection to the left and John D. Lankenau’s landscape collection to the right

A.J. liked paintings with people, cityscapes, market scenes and actual activity happening in them with people that you can identify with. Lankenau’s paintings are primarily true landscapes with not as many people in them. Lankenau’s paintings are a lot more trees and greenery and open space. Both collected what they liked.

The paintings on the south wall are illustrative of the Barbizon School and the Düsseldorf Academy. In the Barbizon School (centered in Barbizon, France in the mid -19th century) the artists saw themselves as painters of nature rather than landscape. The Düsseldorf Academy taught genre and landscape painting in the late 18th century to the mid-19th century – it influenced the Hudson River School in America.

Was it common for collectors in those days to hire people to collect for them or to do their own collecting?

I don't think so. Dr. Barnes definitely had help with his collection. With A.J. Drexel, it’s generally thought by Drexel historians that A.J. had this giant house that he wanted to fill with art and he and his wife Ellen Roset Drexel would buy what they liked. My guess is Ellen had a lot of influence on the artwork that went into her home. 

A.J. Drexel was also influenced by his friends at the time. For instance, his friend, William Hood Stewart, was a collector and the father of artist Julius L. Stewart. 

William encouraged A.J. to commission his son to paint “After the Wedding” a large-scale portrait that depicts a Drexel family wedding. William also may have influenced A.J.’s interest in 19th century Spanish artists by introducing A.J. to the artist Martin Y Rico.

So, there's probably some influence through his friends but I don't think he had a dealer actually help him purchasing the art for the collection.

Can you talk about the Violet Oakley works – and maybe about women in the Drexel Art Collection? 

We have a large collection of study drawings by Violet Oakley. A large portion of the pieces came from Edith Emerson who was Violet’s partner. They came in in the 1980s. Other Oakley art was donated to us afterwards.


TITLE: Charles Dickens and George W. Childs at the Public Ledger
ARTIST: Arthurs, Stanley Massey 1877 - 1950
DATE:pre-1930
PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States
MEDIUM: Oil, canvas
DIMENSIONS: 23x35 in
DONOR: C. Hugh Acheson, 1953
ACCESSION NUMBER: 623


We’re also lucky enough to start offering paid summer co-op positions to students here at Drexel. This is a great way for the students in art history and entertainment and arts management to really learn the day-to-day of collection management. What’s been really great is - as we become more and more established as a collection - we are becoming a more desirable place for students to work, intern and volunteer, building up the ranks of students helping out in the collection. So, this winter I have the largest team coming in. I think I have six volunteers/interns/independent study students working with me, all of whom will be able to improve the collections documentation and research and help get more information onto our online gallery. 

It does feel like it happened overnight. But over the past five years, I have had a student here and there. It’s taken some time to grow and what’s really nice is the students coming to work for the collection have a real interest in the museum and art field.

I've also worked with students completely outside of the art history program. I've had English classes take portrait workshops with the collection to give them a background for their project on the evolution of the selfie. I show the students what different types of portraits there are, how they can create them, the symbolism found within portraiture, then we discuss ways that they could create their own self-portraits for their final project. It’s really fun seeing the final presentations, these students are all so talented and it’s always fascinating to see which direction they choose to take with their self-portraits. 

Last year we had an exhibition on how the collection is used as a teaching tool, and several of the self-portraits from the English classes were actually displayed in the exhibition. Students also assisted in the curation of that exhibition. 

What I am most happy about with the collection and the increase in student involvement is that the collection was founded to be a teaching tool and we’re kind of bringing it back to its original mission which is a great direction for the collection. 

Drexel has some fascinating photography collections. I know you mentioned Larry Clark. I also saw you have photographs by Michael Smith and sports artist Walter looss, Jr. What are the reactions of the students when they take a look at some of these photographs?

I think when we had the Larry Clark show, we got the most feedback from students and the most interaction from the students on that show. It's a pretty graphic series and very pertinent to today's issues. The students knew who he is and they were very excited to see that not only do we have his art but we display it.

As interested as the students were, I was surprised at the level of interest coming from professors in the photography department and the art history department. More and more workshops and student projects are focusing on our photography collections. We even have a student completing his independent study with the collection to catalog our collection of photographs from the U.S. Geological Survey, including pieces by William Jackson, which will lead to an exhibition in fall 2018. 

TITLE: After the Wedding
ARTIST: Stewart, Julius L. 1855 - 1919
DATE: 1880
PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States
MEDIUM: Oil, canvas 
DIMENSIONS: 32 1/2x64 1/4 in
DONOR: Bequest of Anthony J. Drexel, 1893
ACCESSION NUMBER: 19​

​Drexel is known for two creative sides – the humanities side and the scientific side. Do you do any outreach to the scientific side? 

We are working on that. My goal is to connect with every college on campus. And next winter we are actually doing an exhibition on nano-artography - which I'm not going to be able to describe necessarily correctly, but images taken with electron microscopes on the nanoscale, which are produced in gray-scale, are edited using photo editing software to create images that show the beauty within the microscopic details of everyday materials. There is even an international competition created by Drexel’s Nanomaterials Institute. 

I was asked this year to be a judge for the competition and after seeing how beautiful and interesting the photographs where I asked if it would be possible to do a show?

It's going to come down to the Nanomaterials Institute to explain what the process is, but we’re putting our toe in the water to see how we can connect with the more scientific side of Drexel and the technology side. The Materials Science and Engineering folks are excited because they want to be able to show off what they’re working on and to show that through art their ideas can be understood a little better. What's really neat is some of the pieces actually kind of mimic Old Masters and famous paintings. I'm interested in seeing if we can have an art historical interpretation compared with a scientific interpretation. 

We’re also trying to connect with the business school which has been supportive of our exhibitions. I think it would be wonderful to do something about Francis Martin Drexel and the Drexel bank and see who we can pull in with expertise. 

One of the paintings I saw in the exhibit - “Holding Your Drink: 3,000 Years of Drinking Vessels from the Drexel and Salzberg Collections” is by William Hogarth. How was that acquired?

We have a large amount of Hogarth prints, about 119 prints. They were donated to the library by Anthony J. Drexel Paul Jr. (A.J. Drexel’s grandson) in the 1970s and transferred into the collection sometime shortly after that. A number of pieces were originally donated to the libraries and then transferred to the collection. The collection is better able to showcase works of art, like the engravings, and allow access to them. 

What are some of your favorite works in the collection?

We have an 18th century silver epergne by silversmith Thomas Pitts in 1765 displayed on the second floor of the Main Building. An epergne is an elaborate centerpiece for a table that holds treats and candies. It's stunning and I love it. It reminds me of pieces I worked with at Winterthur. I was a silver cataloguer at Winterthur, so silver is always going to be near and dear to me and it's really just a beautiful piece. It was bequeathed to the collection by A.J. Drexel and it's engraved with his wife's initials and the Drexel family crest. A.J. most likely purchased it as a gift to his wife Ellen. 

Another favorite is “Through the Fields” by Francesco Paolo Michetti. It shows harvesters coming home from the fields. It’s very atmospheric and romantic and a great example of the types of artwork A.J. Drexel collected. 

Interviewer Joseph Glantz is the author of Philadelphia Originals and the creative profile series Original Philadelphians






TITLE: A Midnight Modern Conversation
ARTIST: designed by William Hogarth (1697-1764), 
engraved by T. Cook and 
published April 1, 1798 by G. G. & J. 
Robinson Pater-Noster Row, London, England
DATE: printed 1798
PLACE OF ORIGIN: England
MEDIUM: Engraving DIMENSIONS: 16 3/8 x 22 ½ in.
DONOR: Anthony J. Drexel Paul, Sr., Beore 1958
ACCESSION NUMBER: 2729

































TITLE: Freiburg (Germany) 
ARTIST: Tokujiro Nishi 
DATE: 1984 
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Japan
MEDIUM: Oil on canvas DIMENSIONS: 52 ¼ x 39 1/2 in.
DONOR: Gift of Kristine A. Mulhorn, PhD, and Ayumu Yokohama
ACCESSION NUMBER: 17.001.0010

TITLE: George III Silver Nine-Basket Epergne
ARTIST: Pitts, Thomas 1723 - 1793
DATE: 1765
PLACE OF ORIGIN: England
MEDIUM: Sterling silver DIMENSIONS: 23 1/4x23 x20 in
DONOR: Gift of Anthony J. Drexel, 1892
ACCESSION NUMBER: 50 A-W

Copyright (c) 2018 Joseph Glantz

TITLE: 30 Beautiful Women Series: The Seventh Beauty
ARTIST: Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), Utagawa 1786 - 1864
DATE:
PLACE OF ORIGIN: Japan
MEDIUM: Woodblock DIMENSIONS: 14 1/4x10 1/16 in
DONOR: James W. Paul, Jr., 1969
ACCESSION NUMBER: 2188
​TITLE: Catharine Drinker Bowen
ARTIST: Oakley, Violet 1874 - 1961
DATE: 1935
PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States
MEDIUM: Charcoal, paper DIMENSIONS: 10 1/2x8 in
DONOR: Bequest of Edith Emerson, 1982
ACCESSION NUMBER: 5324


​TITLE: Untitled
ARTIST: Clark, Larry *1943
DATE: c.1971
PLACE OF ORIGIN: United States, Oklahoma, Tulsa
MEDIUM: Photograph DIMENSIONS: 11x14 in
DONOR: Justin & Vivian Ebersman, 1985
ACCESSION NUMBER: 85.015.0006