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Image at right: Courtesy of Department of Sociology and Anthropology, “ ‘Tungus’ Bust of Siberian Woman,” 1903 American Museum of Natural History.

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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Engaging Curiosities A special exhibition

October 11 - December 5, 2003
University of Rhode Island Foundation

KINGSTON, R.I. -- September 23, 2003 -- Engaging Curiosities excitingly brings together the hidden treasures of many departments within the University of Rhode Island, in the majority of instances for the first time publicly. From a refined British depiction of an 18thcentury prison interior whose first inmates were itinerant teachers and followers of the theologian who translated the Bible into English, through a masterful 19th-century German zoological lithographic chart examining the anatomy of a crab, to a 20th-century post-modern figurative painting suggesting the fears of adolescent girls, Engaging Curiosities considers the richness of interdisciplinary visuality through higher education teaching over time. The exhibition will take place in the premier campus building of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, its new 79 Upper College Road, Kingston, Rhode Island facility.

Curated by Judith Tolnick, director of the Fine Arts Center Galleries, at the request of Robert C. Coleman, Executive Director, URI Foundation, this special exhibition is a showcase of art and artifacts reflecting the changing nature of pedagogy and the socio-cultural atmosphere of the University of Rhode Island over time. The project was enacted with the help of Curatorial Interns of the Galleries, enrolled in Judith Tolnick’s Internship class that is offered each semester. Examples of treasures to be highlighted are drawn from the Cancer Prevention Research Center and the Departments of Art, Biological Sciences, Human Development and Family Studies, Psychology, Sociology/Anthropology, Special Collections, Theatre, University Library's Special Collections.

Beginning with its state agricultural school origins, the emphasis of this exhibition is on the evolving, generally unrecognized, ever- widening teaching collection base of the University. At the entrance to the URI Foundation, a ca.1900 pennant of "Rhode Island" from the University Library and a long-deflated 1927 basketball kept by the Department of History will introduce the exhibition and the foundations of the University continuing into its State College days. In this section of the installation, a portable photographic display serving to market the "Agricultural Experiment Station" during World War II is shown alongside American prints roughly contemporary to it. These are cows etched by John Edward Costigan and farm life portrayed by Thomas Hart Benton. The zoological wall chart beautifully printed and published in Cassel, Germany completes the introductory characterization of the Academy’s earlier life and times.

The Academy’s expanding interests in examining the human condition and its many contradictory meanings are characterized by objects selected for the Foundation Lobby. In this central area, several dazzling politically charged etchings and engravings by internationally recognized German-born printmaker Fritz Eichenberg (1901-1990) are featured. In the later 1960s of his distinguished career, Eichenberg came to Rhode Island to become Professor of Art and Chair of the Art Department. The Department of Special Collections, University Library, is a prime repository of Eichenberg’s printmaking and illustrated books and the valuable source for many other loans to this exhibition. To be installed nearby the Eichenbergs is a plaster bust of a Siberian woman from 1903, one of several loans by the Department of Sociology/Anthropology. While indicating the comparative study of "other" ethnic types, this plaster study suggestively brings forth the long shadow of eugenics in the teaching of the social sciences at universities everywhere.

A separate area of the URI Foundation Lobby will house one of the great Spanish 19th-century artist Francisco Goya’s "Disorderly Nightmare" prints (also known as "Matrimonial Follies"), dealing with duplicity and other dark sides of human activity. Here, too, a life cast of a human leg, cast in rubber in several pieces and made strangely portable in a custom suitcase, is displayed as an anatomy vehicle for teaching bipedal motion. Nearby will be found an eye color measurement chart, of the sort used by Nazi doctors for determining "racial hygiene," together with intact vintage psychology tests for measuring visual perception and intelligence. Three intriguing colored Rorschach "ink blot" cards from 1921, courtesy of the Psychology Department, as well as a set of numerous colored wool yarns and patterned block tests will indicate the formality of test taking (and giving) through the 1950s. Questions of what is "normal" and who (or which fields) define it will certainly be provoked in this portion of the exhibition.

Upstairs in the URI Foundation, a turn-of-the-century ambience will be created by various historical objects in juxtaposition. An oil on canvas landscape of the period by Providence Art Club member Robert Hogg Nisbet will be placed at the top of the stairs. Other evocative objects include a brass and copper hanging planter that once graced the original Art Department studio in its State College days as well as an oil portrait of a young American woman, related to a URI 1940 alumnus, Theodore St. Clark, that was accepted and shown in the 1906 Spring Salon in Paris. In homage to the Whistlerian painting, a costumed manikin to be designed by Prof. David Howard, Department of Theatre, will emulate the vintage dress of the painted figure.

Of course, modern and contemporary objects of high quality also will be represented in the URI Foundation exhibition. Significantly, in all instances, these objects entered collections of the University by way of initial exposure in temporary exhibitions. New York figurative painter Mike Cockrill and Los Angeles abstract painter Lavi Daniel are represented by fascinating works on view in the large Conference Room. Rhode Island photographer Salvatore Mancini will be represented in the Founders’ Room by several gelatin silver prints from a photographic essay on Rhode Island’s Waterways.

The profile and texture of the University of Rhode Island’s history –its interdisciplinary visuality – is demonstrated vividly in this unique special exhibition. A printed self-guided Guide to the exhibition will available on site.

Hours of the URI Foundation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Telephone 874.5836 for directions.
The exhibition is free and open to the public

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Page last revised Thursday, October 9, 2003 .