If asked where the best collection of contemporary Michigan printmaking is, one would assume that the title would be held by a museum or a large college like the University of Michigan. However, according to Associate Professor of Art and Design Robert Rozier, Alma College has within its permanent compilation the best collection of contemporary Michigan printmaking.
This is because the college has hosted a competition for printmaking for over 30 years. The prizes for this contest were purchase awards: the college would buy the pieces of the winners. The competition was phased out when the transition to the digital age made printmaking a less popular art form. Nevertheless, because of this competition, Alma still contains a very large collection of these works.
The assortment includes various paintings, watercolors, 3D works, large pastel paintings, and even a page from an illustrated manuscript. Ranging from works by Goya and James Whistler to those by relatively unknown artists and college alumni, the compilation is very diverse.
This collection is displayed in several places around campus: Clack, the Swanson Academic Center, the library, and even the Dow science building.
“These are real works of art, not just reproductions,” said Professor of Art and Design Carrie Anne Parks-Kirby. Most of the work that is not on display is housed inside the art building, although there is not a large space for centralized storage of the work.
“We like to take care of our art,” Rozier said. “Its purpose is for people to see and enjoy [it].”
Students work alongside Rozier to help maintain and move the collection from display back into storage.
“We provide the artwork for the CSO, President’s house, and the academic buildings. When something gets broken, we switch it out and fix it as soon as possible,” said Art Major Josh Gove (’14).
When President Jeff Abernathy would like something new on display in his home, or professors in their offices, students like Gove assist them in picking out the new pieces.
The care and maintenance of the collection teaches the students valuable lessons. “Taking care of the art collections helps students learn how to manage and maintain the art collection like a curator would,” Gove said.
Lessons in art history can be taken from this collection as well. Some of the pieces are older, while some are contemporary. With artistic processes such as photograph development and print-making, comparing the older pieces to the newer helps showcase the differences and development of the processes used to make them. “Obviously, we enjoy the art, but we can learn about [the art] through all the different processes [that made them] too,” Gove said.
“It’s really good to get an example [of the art] that you can hold onto and show the students when you are teaching. It’s useful as a teaching tool,” Parks-Kirby said.
The art collection isn’t digital yet, but it is well on its way. The works are all kept on file, and many of them have been photographed.
The art collection is still growing—slowly. Contributions to the growth come from alumni donations, artist donations, and purchases made by the college. Every year the college purchases works from a show done by senior artists, and the works of these artists mingle with works of the famous printmaker Goya.
“It’s a cool thing to see [the works of Alma alumni] in the art collection,” Gove said.