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Past Time: Geology in European and American Art opens at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center September 21 to December 9

Past Time: Geology in European and American Art will be on view September 21 to December 9, 2018, at The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

An interdisciplinary exhibition that weaves and blends the distinctive interests of art and science, Past Time opens with a lecture by Rebecca Bedell, Associate Professor of Art, Wellesley College, on Friday, September 21, in Taylor Hall 102 at 5:30pm, followed by a reception in the Atrium of the Loeb Art Center. 

The exhibition, curated by Patricia Phagan, is a broad display of watercolors, drawings, oil sketches, and sketchbooks, and looks at studies made by European and American artists from the 1770s to the 1890s who were engaged with a new scientific investigation of the earth’s crust. This inquiry came to be called geology, and it emerged from a mix of interests in minerals and their applications in industry, curiosity about rocks and other features and how they were formed, and theories about how the earth began. 

“With the gradual and widening popularity of geology, more artists became engaged with geological motifs as the new discipline grew to its height and was accessible through popular literature and printed illustrations,” says Phagan.  “The geology fad was an example of the common knowledge then more widely shared among educated audiences. Not since the mid-nineteenth century have artists and scientists shared such closely overlapping mindsets.”

The exhibition features 49 works of art by leading artists of the period and numerous samples of natural specimens, including red sandstone from Petra, Jordan, and basalt from the Palisades of New Jersey. On view are works by John Ruskin, Joseph Wright of Derby, Thomas Jones, J. M. W. Turner, Claude Bonnefond, Johann Christian Reinhart, Jacob Philipp Hackert, Caspar Wolf, Asher B. Durand, Frederic Church, and William Trost Richards, among several others. The show draws on Vassar’s rich collection of Hudson River School paintings and drawings. Many works from the permanent collection of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center are joined by generous loans from the Yale Center for British Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MFA Boston, Morgan Library & Museum, New York Public Library, Cooper Hewitt, Princeton University Art Museum, and Olana State Historic Site at Hudson, New York. Natural specimens are loaned from the collection at Olana of Hudson River School artist Frederic Church, and the A. Scott Warthin Geological Museum at Vassar College.

The exhibition and catalogue benefit from the generous support of the Art Dealers Association of America Foundation, the Evelyn Metzger Exhibition Fund, and the Lucy Maynard Salmon Research Fund, awarded by the Vassar College Research Committee. 


Friday, September 21, Taylor Hall 102, 5:30pm
Followed by Reception in Atrium of the Loeb Art Center
Rebecca Bedell, Associate Professor of Art, Wellesley College
Much of Rebecca Bedell’s research and scholarly writing has focused on the relationship between art and science. Her first book, The Anatomy of Nature: Geology and American Landscape Painting, 1825–1875 (Princeton, 2001), explored the ways that a number of prominent landscape artists, including Frederic Church and Thomas Moran, were engaged with the then fashionable science of geology. She also was part of the team that produced the international exhibition Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts (Yale, 2009). Bedell earned a B.A. from Wellesley College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University.

Friday, September 28, Ely Hall, 12:00pm
The buildings of Vassar College have been constructed with rocks from quarries throughout the United States. Each building displays unique features tied to the geologic environments in which they were formed. Professor Jill Schneiderman, chair of the earth science and geography department, will lead a walking tour of the campus that reveals some of the unsung aspects of this beautiful campus. Participants can view the Past Time: Geology in European and American Art exhibition at the Art Center before or after the walk.

Sunday, September 30, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, 1:30–4:00pm
There will be a wide variety of fun, stimulating hands-on art activities for families inspired by the exhibition. 

Wednesday, October 3, Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center 4:00pm
Patricia Phagan, organizer of the exhibition and the Philip and Lynn Straus Curator of Prints and Drawings, joins Jill S. Schneiderman, professor of earth science at Vassar College and a consultant and guest contributor to the Past Time catalogue, in a gallery talk on the exhibition.
Saturday, October 20, Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, New York, 12:30pm - 3:30pm
This Olana tour and hike is only open to members of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. To become a member or renew your membership, call 845-437-5237 or visit The hike is led by Robert Titus, professor of geology and environmental sciences at Hartwick College, Oneonta, New York.


Wednesday, October 31, Taylor Hall Room 203, 4:00pm

An array of faculty from various disciplines, including Lisa Paravisini-Gebert (Department of Hispanic Studies/Environmental Studies), Brian Lukacher (Department of Art), Jill S. Schneiderman (Department of Earth Science & Geography), and Elliott Schreiber (Department of German Studies), with curator Patricia Phagan, offer diverse perspectives on South America in the art of Hudson River School painter Frederic Church.

Throughout the run of the show, families visiting the Art Center can sign out a tote bag filled with art supplies and suggestions for outdoor sketching and other exhibition-related activities to try outside on the beautiful campus grounds.

About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center was founded in 1864 as the Vassar College Art Gallery. The current 36,400-square-foot facility, designed by Cesar Pelli and named in honor of the new building's primary donor, opened in 1993. Vassar was the first U.S. college founded with an art museum as a part of its original plans, and at any given time, the Permanent Collection Galleries of the Art Center feature approximately 350 works from Vassar's extensive collections. The Art Center's collections chart the history of art from antiquity to the present and comprise over 21,000 works, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, and ceramic wares.  Notable holdings include the Warburg Collection of Old Master prints, an important group of Hudson River School paintings given by Matthew Vassar at the college's inception, and a wide range of works by major European and American 20th-century painters. 

Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible.  The Art Center is open to the public Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10:00am–5:00pm; Thursday, 10:00am–9:00pm; and Sunday, 1:00–5:00pm.  Located at the entrance to the historic Vassar College campus, the Art Center can be reached within minutes from other Mid-Hudson cultural attractions, such as Dia:Beacon, the Franklin Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt national historic sites and homes, and the Vanderbilt mansion.  For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit
Vassar College strives to make its events, performances, and facilities accessible to all. Individuals with disabilities requiring special accommodations must contact the Office of Campus Activities at least 48 hours in advance of an event, Mondays-Fridays, at (845) 437-5370. Without sufficient notice, appropriate space/and or assistance may not be available. For detailed information about accessibility to specific campus facilities, search for “campus accessibility information” on the Vassar homepage

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Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.


Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, October 30, 2018