Noah’s Ark lands at WCMA

The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) is one of the best resources for art we have on campus. The most surprising thing to me as I chatted with my entrymates at breakfast was that none of them had visited the museum yet during their time here. I had only been to WCMA twice and once was for a mere few minutes, so I was feeling overdue for a visit. The space was quiet and deserted, as if it were a secret that it is here at all. The first exhibit on your left as you walk in the door is “The Last Take-Out: Paper Works” by William B. Schade. I had already seen it during my brief visit last time, but I returned to get a closer look. Schade, a professor of art at Sage College, is a Williamstown artist who has created a fanciful interpretation of the story of Noah (from Noah’s standpoint) in handmade paper.

The outward-facing wall displays transcripts from Noah’s logbook or journal, describing the message from God to build a boat and to bring the animals because “I am going to destroy the world with a giant flood starting April 1.” These pages are tacked down under glass, in the guise of an archaeological exhibit in a museum. One can imagine this to be the latest discovery in the world of anthropology.

The exhibit itself is startlingly beautiful. Inside the room with radiant red walls are Noah’s drawings, blueprints and even leftovers from the final supper. The paintings are of the different animals, done in pen and watercolor in brown, earthy tones with elaborate gold borders. Accompanying the paintings are Noah’s notes in a child-like scrawl across the page, with arrows indicating about what he’s writing. One painting of a giraffe reads, “soft mouth” and “spotted marshmallow coat” with appropriate arrows. These are Noah’s observations of each animal that he brings on board; many include descriptions of what they like to eat.

In the center of the gallery is a table, laid out with three-dimensional creations of Schade’s: a beautiful and exquisitely detailed tea party for Noah and his family. This is a child’s dream-come-true. There are woven placemats, wooden spoons and imitation earthenware (paper maché) with foods painted inside. The table is set with superb anachronisms, such as an empty pizza box and a box of animal crackers (of course, these are called “Noah’s Animals,” not Barnum and Bailey’s).

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, “Please Do Not Touch” signs abound. And while I understand the legitimacy of this rule, I still felt deprived. Touch seems like an important aspect of experiencing art, but I have learned that one is not allowed to desecrate the art with dirty fingers. So I must contain myself. After all, I am being watched by a security guard (albeit another freshman who lives in the entry next to mine; I still must respect her authority here).

One wall of the display is curiously devoted to an entirely different, though equally beautiful, series of paintings and paper creations. This detracts seriously from the exhibit as a whole because the precious illusion is burst. The second series features the first century emperor Nero. This series is wonderful, but it has no place smack in the middle of the Noah gallery.

You cannot see everything in Williamstown, but it would truly be a waste if you don’t get over to the WCMA at least occasionally. Noah’s story will be on display until Nov. 26, and there are and will be many other fantastic exhibits. Just take 15 minutes to look, and always find a moment to appreciate the inherent art around you.

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