RAYMOND THOMPSON JR.
WRITTEN BY DIANA MAZZELLA
What you once knew as an empty lot beside the Creative Arts Center has since sprouted brick and glass and grown into the Art Museum of West Virginia University.
For decades, there were those who dreamed of the University’s first art museum. For decades, WVU amassed an art collection of more than 3,000 works, visited by scholars and students with appointments. A consensus built that it was time for a place where children could take field trips, college students could have a space to imagine and professors could make more connections between science and art.
When the late 2000s came, most people weren’t thinking about building art museums. They were thinking about staying afloat in an uncertain economy. WVU believed the museum would become real so strongly that the University and the College of Creative Arts selected architects and a museum staff and talked to supporters who also had a vision of the museum that wasn’t there yet. They gave their art, they gave their energy, they gave from their pocketbooks.
When the crowds rushed inside on Aug. 25, decades of dreams became reality. There are still more dreams unrealized — the dreams of what this place will do.
The Art Museum of WVU on opening day.
Preparator Michael Loop hangs a painting on the wall in ahead of the museum's opening. Curator Robert Bridges stands behind a Plexiglas sculpture created by Robert Lepper, Untitled, circa 1955. The piece was acquired through the Myers Foundation Purchase Fund.
At the museum opening, members of the class of 2033, so tiny that their feet barely touched the floor, sat on small stools. The WVU Nursery School students assembled on the patio of the sandy-colored building are inevitably going to grow, much like the museum has. And as they grow, they will have this place to experience art.
“The arts, quite simply, nourish the soul,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee told the museum’s visitors on opening day. “They make our lives richer, more compassionate, more fulfilled. They are what makes us human.”
Inside the walls, you can catch people being very human. They stop on the stairway and hold aloft camera phones to capture their favorite vignettes — a sailboat, a face, a heart in a bottle — in the two-story mural painted on the wall by graffiti artists How and Nosm. As they climb the staircase, they approach it from different literal and figurative vantage points.
At the back of the downstairs gallery is an Andy Warhol print in black, known as “Untitled, 1974.” Each passerby in succession crouches down and then crouches some more to see the light reflect a Campbell’s Soup can or a Brillo box, or both.
“It’s almost like a hologram, isn’t it?” one visitor asks.
“Oh, now this one is too cool!” another says.
You may not know what you’re looking for on the second-floor gallery. But you’ll see it anyway. Framed by an alcove’s entrance is a Blanche Lazzell untitled canvas made in 1934, a bit taller than an average-sized human. Morgantown folks don’t really need a title for it. It’s clearly depicting WVU’s Stewart Hall, what’s now known as Wesley United Methodist Church downtown and glass factory smokestacks that dotted the landscape.
Lazzell graduated from WVU with a fine arts degree in 1905. She was a West Virginian who went on to be one of the greats in printmaking, part of the Provincetown collective on Cape Cod. The museum exhibit creates a sanctuary for 13 of her works in an alcove that uplifts her art and serves as a reminder that she was one of us.
She was not likely to have thought of the class of 2033, but she can remind them, the class of 2019 and everyone else who visits the museum that creative inspiration can make a future, a more meaningful life and an afternoon that leaves you with a full heart and a nourished soul.
The Art Museum of WVU is open from 12:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. There is no charge for admission. Go online: artmuseum.wvu.edu.