Spencer Art Studio contains a cave of creative wonders

Every year, first-years and – let’s admit it – upperclassmen who have only hazy memories about the layout of campus after the three glorious months of summer vacation, eagerly scour the campus to discover (or rediscover) the exciting sites of the College. I saw it happen this year: All were propelled by the certainty that there was more to Williams than the eye could see. So, like Indiana Jones, they embark on their expeditions armed with flimsy campus maps and Nalgenes. There are plenty of spots that Williams students make a point to explore, but one site is often left undiscovered.

Tucked away in the corner of the campus, next door to Driscoll Dining Hall, the façade of the Spencer Art Studio is unassuming to say the least. As one approaches the bare, gray walls, it would hardly occur to the viewer that this is a center for artistic stimulation and creation, and that within this blank, functional building are some of the College’s best-kept secrets.

Exploring the art studio was one of the most bizarre experiences I have had yet at Williams. If anything, I felt like an impostor as I entered through the glass double doors. Save for a faint hum that echoed through the corridor from a distant seminar, the building seemed devoid of human activity.

Upon closer inspection however, the art studio was transformed in my eyes from a lackluster and neglected building into a magnificent warehouse. Speaking to some of the studio art students around the building, I found out what they appreciated about the building’s décor. “I feel really inspired by the good view of the scenery outside,” Kylen Moran ’13 said. “The walls covered with students’ work are inspirational too.” It seemed to me that the corridors sparsely decorated with sketches, photographs and paintings did not serve as exhibitions, but as invitations for the viewer to continue on to the classrooms.
And continue on to the classrooms (or at least try to continue on to the classrooms), I did.

The most obvious route to take was the staircase that dominated the lobby. Indeed, it was so prominent and covered so much vertical distance that I was at first hesitant to mount it. Nevertheless, it is apparently an important element of the building. “The exposed staircase that makes its way up the three floors of the building invites visual communication between the different branches of artists housed there,” said Elizabeth Ruebush ’10, an art history major. “That’s what I think an art building should be – a social space, not only a box filled with classrooms.”

It seemed like scaling the stairs took an hour (I had to convince myself that I was not out of breath at least three times). My sheepishness upon reaching the third floor was such that I wondered if I would really be able to discover the treasures of the famed drawing studios, which apparently lay at the top. However, around the corner I suddenly came across a glorious sight. The walls were covered with an abundance of portraits: rapid sketches in charcoal, sketches done using the left hand in pencil, “blind” sketches – in short, a corridor of immense talent and intrigue.

Encouraged and emboldened by this success, I strode to the exit sign at the end of the hallway and found myself in dimly lit stairway with no windows. A bit scared, I followed it down, down, down and entered a musty basement filled with huge easels and other equipment. What happened next was a haze: Somehow I made my way out and wandered through other fantastic rooms: Rooms that were completely dark (maybe photography dark rooms, I thought); one boasting huge canvases smeared with oil paint; one filled with gadgets that looked vaguely video-related; one with hulking rolled presses used for goodness-knows-what.

My personal favorite was a room in the basement (not the same basement I’d encountered earlier) used, apparently, for sculpture. While I was absorbed in the area of the room dedicated to a bristling array of saws and drills and every dangerous type of tool used for cutting, I suddenly saw a bright flash in my right field of vision. Turning around, I saw a few students dressed in leather jackets, gloves and what looked to be Darth Vader masks, holding huge torches from which fire spewed. As it turns out, they weren’t aliens or inhabitants of the future: They were metal welders.

After my visit, I couldn’t help but wonder why this remarkable building is left unvisited by the majority of the student population. Perhaps it’s because most students hardly know its location. “I got lost on my way to the first class,” Moran said. Now you know where the Spencer Art Studio is, go ahead and make the trudge over towards Driscoll: This building should be high on your “to explore” list. Who knows, maybe you, too, will encounter more Darth Vaders, or something even wackier.

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