Nestled in the center of Lawrence University’s campus is the wonderland-inspired Wriston Art Center, home to the university’s art and art history departments and also home to Wriston Art Galleries, a free space dedicated to broadening the minds of students, faculty, staff and the larger community.
“The Wriston Art Galleries are three interconnected galleries of ascending size in the Wriston Art Center. We have five different sets of exhibitions each year, in the fall, winter and spring terms,” explains Director and Curator Beth Zinsli, who wears many hats, from scheduling exhibitions and working with artists and donors to overseeing the impressive permanent art collection. In addition to teaching in the art history department, as well as the new museum studies interdisciplinary area, Zinsli also networks within the community by serving on committees with Appleton Downtown’s creative teams to connect Lawrence to the community in meaningful ways.
Zinsli continues, “At the end of the spring term, we have the senior art show, and in the summer we have something kind of new called, the Wriston Summer Exhibition Series, which is intended to showcase artworks in our collection by Wisconsin or Midwestern artists. It’s intended to invite people in the Appleton and Fox Cities community into the galleries at a time when students are gone and there’s kind of less going on on campus.”
Wriston Art Galleries also participate in Appleton Downtown Inc.’s “Art on the Town” evenings during the summer, as well as monthly “Art at Noon” talks throughout the year. The 25-minute lunchtime programs are open to the public and feature a quick tour of the current exhibition and enriching information provided by Zinsli or one of her interns.
“That has drawn a lot of people into the galleries in a really cool way,” says Zinsli of Art at Noon. “I think we suffer from people feeling like we’re a very insular campus, and they don’t know if they can come here. And so inviting them, just extending the invitation and saying, ‘You’re welcome to come here’ breaks that barrier. You know, we’re free, we change our exhibitions a lot, we have really cool events happening. Once people get over crossing the threshold of campus and figure out which building we are and how to get into Wriston in the first place … I think once they come in and we welcome them into the gallery space, they come back.”
One of Zinsli’s main goals is to raise awareness of the galleries as a resource for the community. That role goes beyond the exhibitions in the galleries themselves; the Wriston also is home to an impressive collection of about 4,000 objects “ranging from ethnographic materials to our ancient and byzantine coin collection to our super cool little collection of German expressionist prints,” as Zinsli describes. “We have a really nice collection of Japanese wood block prints, a really great collection of contemporary artworks. It’s a diverse collection.”
The collection is unique in its scope as well as its accessibility. “Even if we’re not having an exhibition in the galleries, folks are allowed to contact me and say, ‘I heard you have some really cool Japanese wood block prints, and my kid’s really into manga. Can I come in and show them this other form of Japanese art?’ I would totally welcome that,” says Zinsli. “If someone wants to come in and do research or if they just want to see something, we’re very open to that.”
The ancient byzantine coin collection is a special asset for the Wriston Art Galleries, who once a year partner with Lawrence University’s classics department to host an event they cleverly call, “The Ancient Coin Petting Zoo.”
“It’s awesome,” says Zinsli. “It’s an opportunity for us to show off the collection in a way that’s more hands-on than an exhibition. You know, you go into the gallery and you can’t really touch. At the Ancient Coin Petting Zoo you can actually hold this piece of ancient history in your hand, and it’s pretty amazing.”
“It’s a pretty special collection among our peers in the ACM (Associate Colleges of the Midwest) and in the area,” says Zinsli. “Not many of them have collections of this caliber or size, and very few of them have the same type of gallery. We’re very lucky to have those two pieces of the art galleries.”
In addition to standing out among other college and university galleries, Wriston Art Galleries fits into the Fox Cities art scene in a distinctive way as well. “I think that we offer something different than the other museums on College Avenue,” says Zinsli. “The Trout has a lot of really great community center things, and they do exhibitions that connect really well to different aspects of the community, their member show and things like that. The History Museum (at the Castle) has this really deep and longstanding affiliation with the community. So, what we do is something a little different. We change over (exhibitions) a lot more than the other two institutions, and I think having this really cool collection is also an asset in terms of being able to draw from that. I think we just have a different sort of appeal, and I think it complements what the other museums on College Avenue are doing, and the other museums regionally. ”
Wriston Art Galleries are already gearing up for their next set of exhibitions, which will be focused on photography, a medium near and dear to Zinsli’s heart. “I’m a historian of photography,” she explains. “That’s what I studied in grad school and wrote my dissertation about. I’m excited to have three different photography exhibitions. They’re all in different ways about intimacy and about how we store and think about photographs and how we think about them as images. The largest gallery will be taken over by an artist named Jill Casid, and it’s called, “Kissing on Main St.” She’s created these Plexiglass peep boxes into which you’ll be able to look and see a polaroid image. I think it will be very different and very cool in the space.”
The other galleries will feature exhibitions called, “Certificates of Presence: The Photography of Livija Patikne” and “The Archive as a River: Paul Vanderbilt and Photography.” The exhibitions will open on March 31, with an artist talk by Casid at 6 p.m., reception with refreshments to follow. The opening is free and open to the public.
The Wriston Art Galleries are open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday through Sunday noon to 4 p.m. The Wriston Art Center is located on the Lawrence University campus, south of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, on the southwest corner of College Avenue and Lawe Street. Visitor parking is available just off College Avenue near the Hurvis Center, across Lawe Street from the Wriston Art Center.
For more information visit lawrence.edu/s/wriston/ or call 832-6621. General inquiries also can be directed by email to [email protected].