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History of the Permanent Collection

abstract painting on newspaper
Willem de Kooning, untitled mixed media painting, 1972, SLU 80.416

St. Lawrence University has a history of collecting art objects and cultural artifacts dating to the early 1900s. As of 1968, approximately 1,160 items were recorded as formally accessioned with individual SLU ID numbers. By the early 1980s, the collection numbered 4,869, having grown by over 3,700 objects alone through SLU President Frank P. Piskor’s leadership and vision from 1969 to 1981. (The number 3,700 is slightly misleading, however, in that 64 print and photography portfolios were acquired during this time period, each with 10-20 individual artworks per portfolio. That number also reflects the acquisition of four artists’ estates totaling 572 artworks.) Approximately 1,460 objects were acquired in the 1970s and ’80s initiated by Piskor through gifts from the Martin S. Ackerman Foundation, an organization that matched artists, galleries, and donors to collecting institutions like SLU. The latter number also represents several portfolios each containing multiple artworks within.

painting of corn, mushroom, and snail
Alberto MIgort, Fuerza, derrumbe y destello (Force, Collapse, and Flash), 2019, acrylic on canvas, SLU 2020.23

The Gallery now oversees the stewardship of and access to SLU’s permanent collection of over 7,000 art objects and cultural artifacts. Works range in date from the Middle Ages to present day and in genres ranging from representational and documentary to Abstract Expressionism, Pop, identity politics, indigenous, character design, belief systems, and others. The majority of the collection dates from the mid-20th century to present day and includes paintings (~900), prints (~3,000), photographs (~1,100), portfolios (~100 with 1,500 discreet works of art), artists’ books (265), sculpture and ceramics (~400), and ethnographic objects (~400).

ink drawing of four women
Reginald Marsh, Strollers, 1944, Chinese ink on paper, SLU 73.43.2

The Gallery’s first commercially printed catalogues of annual acquisitions date to 1977 and 1978. Subsequent annual reports, including acquisition checklists, were produced from 1979 through 1982 when the Gallery shared part-time faculty directors with the Fine Arts department. These publications were discontinued when the first full-time director was hired in the fall of 1982, as the Gallery focus appears to have shifted more toward rotating exhibitions. The earliest history of the Gallery (pre-Griffiths Arts Center) is described in detail in a catalogue for an exhibition, Selections from the Permanent Collection: American Representational Artists of the 1930s and 1940s, on display in 1981 in honor of President Piskor and his wife.

 Acquisition committees made up of faculty, staff, and students existed from 1964 to the 1990s. Since that time, Gallery staff has worked closely with faculty from the arts and across campus to identify acquisitions that will serve the educational, liberal arts mission of the University.

Today, SLU’s permanent collection is one of the most significant of its kind across northern New York. Many important artworks have been acquired through alumni gifts. Restricted endowment funds are also used for acquisitions and for the direct care of the collection (museum standard matting and framing, conservation, and appraisals), as per the American Alliance of Museums “Direct Care of Collections” guidelines.

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In the Beginning, concept and design by Iakonikonriiosta, Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, machine quilted by Robynne Dorion, Cornwall, Ontario, 86x96 in., 2020, SLU 2020.39