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Vol. 2, No. 1
Spring 2004

"Il Faro, The Lighthouse at Livorno, Italy, During a Storm" by Athos Menaboni from the Collection of Russell Clayton.

Art, Art Everywhere
By Cheryl Anderson

It is tucked into unexpected corners. It dominates the main entrance to the James V. Carmichael Student Center and the Joe Mack Wilson Building. It stops you in your tracks as you notice Rembrandt’s signature on your way to class.

Art abounds at Kennesaw State University. With a Permanent Collection of more than 400 pieces valued in the millions, the university has earned a reputation for art appreciation that continues to attract art collectors and their gifts (click here to see some of their gifts). “We have been fortunate in our friends,” said Joseph Meeks, dean of the KSU School of the Arts. “Their love of art has helped us build an outstanding collection that serves both our students and the community.”

The first of these friends was a pair of collectors from Marietta, Fred Bentley Sr. and J. Alan Sellars. In 1972, the two men donated the first pieces, including two etchings, two lithographs and one woodblock print from the 1940 Venice Biennale. Together and individually, Bentley and Sellars continued contributing every year until Sellars’ death, and Bentley’s gifts still arrive every December like a visit from Santa Claus, as retired KSU Professor of Art Thomson Salter once noted.

“I grew up in an area where there were no museums, no art anywhere,” Bentley noted recently, “and I vowed there would never be another student who didn’t have art if I could help it.”

Over the years, the collection grew steadily to include works by such noted American artists as N.C. Wyeth, George Innes,Thomas Hart Benton and Winslow Homer. “I wanted young people to see American art,” Bentley said. “We now have examples from every period and every style in the collection. It thrills me to death when I see a student looking at a painting I donated. I have had some students tell me their careers were influenced by these works.”

According to Roberta Griffin, director of galleries, the Bentley-Sellars gifts gave the university a very firm foundation in nineteenth to mid-twentieth American art which is now being enhanced by more contemporary works. The Dick and Judy Marks collection of large-scale paintings and sculptures “picks up from there,” she said. “We now have an impressive retrospective of 200 years of American works.”

The true value of the collection is not in its monetary value but in its incalculable contribution to student learning. Art majors study the works to learn techniques and to explore their own interpretations, while other students benefit from having “real art” presented to them. “It’s very different from seeing a slide or a picture in a book,” Griffin, who oversees the collection with the able assistance of Curator Suzanne Talbott, said. “You have to see the actual painting or sculpture to really understand its power.”

That is part of what makes Bernard Zuckerman’s 1999 donation of works by his late wife, Ruth Zuckerman, so valuable. In addition to nearly 100 stone sculptures, his gift also included her papers and other materials. “When you have a great collection of an artist’s life’s work, the ideal thing is to have not just that archive, but also the letters and the slides, with the representative works from each period of her work,” Griffin said. “Then, you really have something worth studying.”

After his wife’s death, Zuckerman was approached by the University of Georgia and the High Museum, but he ultimately decided to share her collection of Kennesaw State. “The others couldn’t promise to display all of the works,” Zuckerman said, “and I didn’t want any of the pieces to end up in a basement where no one could see them.” The Zuckerman collection is currently on display in a number of buildings and offices throughout campus, but eventually most of the works will be placed permanently in the School’s proposed Art Museum.

Zuckerman also based his decision on the university’s enthusiasm for his wife’s work. In fact, Griffin was in the middle of curating an exhibition of Ruth Zuckerman’s latest work when the artist passed away unexpectedly. Griffin decided to postpone the exhibition and re-mount it as a retrospective of all of her work. “Her work was too important not to highlight it in a more profound way,” Griffin said. “On opening night, despite a terrible storm, the gallery was packed with people.”

Griffin believes many of the more recent donors to the Permanent Collection, like Zuckerman, have been motivated by the university’s willingness to exhibit their collections. “We started a series of shows we now call The Collectors’ Vision several years ago to spotlight the wonderful art that area collectors have assembled. We work very closely with the collectors throughout the process and we strive to treat their art with the tremendous respect and admiration is deserves.” That treatment includes attractive and informative brochures and catalogs and special events throughout the exhibition period. After being featured in The Collectors’ Vision, Richard and Judy Marks decided to entrust many of their large-scale sculptures and paintings to the university. Their collection is visible on the grounds of the university, on the walls of the Visual Arts Building (the only place with walls large enough, according to Griffin) and in the rotunda of the Student Center where “The Leaning Man” commands the attention of students and visitors alike.

Next season, two exhibitions will showcase the Permanent Collection’s most recent addition, works by the late Italian-born Atlanta artist Athos Menaboni. Known as a twentieth-century Audubon, Menaboni painted more than 150 species of American birds and he created murals, seascapes, landscapes, mosaics and fantasies—many of which were featured on the covers of magazines like Southern Living and Sports Illustrated. The Christmas cards he created for Coca-Cola mogul Robert Woodruff will be on display in December 2004 and many of his other works will be exhibited in April 2005. Both exhibitions represent the bulk of a private collection assembled by Russell Clayton, a graduate of KSU and a local history teacher, who plans to donate some of his Menaboni collection to the university. Like the Zuckerman collection, Clayton’s donation also will include documents and personal correspondence.

As the university befriends more art collectors and art lovers, the Permanent Collection of Art is expected to continue growing. Griffin, who has worked with the collection for more than 20 years, realizes its value perhaps more than any other individual.

“When I meet with classes, I am amazed how much art history we can cover just by pointing out what we have in our collection.”

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