Students share experiences of rooming with works of art

WCMA is displaying WALLS works until Thursday, when they will be distributed to student rooms. Tim Nagle-McNaughton/Photo Editor
WCMA is displaying WALLS works until Thursday, when they will be distributed to student rooms. Tim Nagle-McNaughton/Photo Editor.

Ninety notable artworks are temporarily hanging in the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) this week, awaiting their new homes in student dormitory rooms across campus. Through the Williams Art Loan for Living Spaces (WALLS) program, now in its fourth semester, any student at the College can borrow one of the selected works to keep in a dorm room for a semester at a time. The WALLS collection represents a diverse range of styles and eras, from Cézanne to Chagall, and the opportunity to live alongside a work allows an unusual intimacy and understanding with the pieces.

This semester, WALLS will distribute its artwork to students on a first-come, first-serve basis tomorrow, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. In the meantime, interested students can stop by WCMA between noon and 2 p.m. any day this week to speak with students who have previously borrowed some of the works.

Gabby Gauthier ’17 shared her experiences during the first of these informal “Dear Future Borrower…” events. Gauthier has participated in WALLS during each of its three semesters and has had a unique experience with each work she has chosen. WALLS offers “a pretty incredible opportunity,” she said.

The program’s one-semester format allows students to get to know the art, but also leaves the opportunity for novel experiences, Gauthier said. “You keep [the work] for a semester, and I think that’s a perfect amount of time,” she said. “If it were too long, it would just grow into the scenery. [Instead,] you’re always noticing it every time you come in and out of your room.”

Being an art history major gives Gauthier further insight into the value of simply spending time in the presence of art and of getting to know a few particular pieces extremely well.

“The first paper I ever had to write for [an art history] class, I had no idea,” she said. “You look at [the art] and no ideas come to you initially because writing about art was never something I had had to do in the past. What I learned is that you just have to sit there with the art object for a really long time, and then it starts to come to you. That’s a major idea behind this program: Spending lots of time with your art makes these kinds of incredible experiences possible.”

Tricia Ho ’16 agrees that WALLS is a positive step towards greater art appreciation on campus. “I think at some level a lot of Williams students don’t have the time or, really, the interest in the arts, especially the visual arts,” Ho said. “WCMA WALLS is a great way to get to interact with art in a tangible way that you never would get to experience elsewhere.”

WCMA Security Supervisor Nancy Gwozdz agreed that spending time with artwork is an invaluable opportunity, afforded in a unique way by the WALLS program. WALLS is “wonderful,” Gwozdz said, and “very unique,” since only a few other colleges offer similar opportunities. As a security monitor, she has the privilege of witnessing the great diversity of WCMA’s collection, which is represented in the special WALLS collection.

The program “has opened up new avenues for students to enjoy the artwork,” Gwozdz said. “WALLS is everything from drypoint to modern photography and everything in between.” The program has been so successful that it will likely be expanding to encompass more works – and consequently include more students – in upcoming semesters, she said.

“It’s amazing that they trust us to take” original works of art, Gauthier said. Of the three pieces Gauthier has housed in her room, she feels most connected with the second, a screenprint titled Stone into Fountain by Corita Kent, a “former nun [who] became a pop artist,” Gauthier said. As a WCMA public relations intern last summer, Gauthier chose to make Stone into Fountain into a WCMA sign because “I loved it so much, just from spending so much time looking at it.” Naturally, the following semester, she selected the work during the WALLS pickup.

“I feel like that’s mine,” Gauthier said, gesturing towards Stone into Fountain. At the end of the semester, student borrowers sign a little notebook with a short message about their experiences living with the art, she added. The notebook gave her further insight into the powerful influence of WALLS works on their student hosts. “When I saw that someone else wrote about mine before I had it, it was weird they had this same relationship, because it felt so personal to me,” she said. “But I’m glad someone else is going to have it. I really enjoyed it.”

The WALLS distribution process will be slightly different this year, as the pick-up time has been moved from a Sunday morning to a Thursday evening. In the past, a few students, including Gauthier, had camped out all night to get a good spot in the line and snag a favorite work. Camping out was fun, Gauthier said, and WCMA employees even provided cookies and donuts to the dedicated art appreciators as they spent hours in line. But overall, Gauthier thinks the move to an evening distribution time is a good idea, since it will increase interest in the program among the general student body. Additionally, the WALLS pickup is bound to be fun: “The people at WCMA are great party planners,” Gauthier said.

Students who have borrowed art in the past seem to be overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the program. “If any students have empty space on their walls, they should definitely try to get their hands on a piece,” Ho said. The WALLS program is sure to continue to inspire students for many years to come.

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