Groundbreaking Ceremony

by Michael O'Malley

last edited on Thu. October 30 2014

On October 29, 1971, four speeches were given at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Smart Gallery and the Cochrane-Woods Art Center.

They touch on the history of art on campus, and they highlight the University’s idiosyncrasies that led to the building of these structures at this particular time in history. The full text of the speeches are included below in the order they were given.

Robert L. Scranton
Chairman of the Department of Art at the University of Chicago

When the preparations for this occasion were at an early stage, it was suggested to me that I might speak to you on the history of the Department of Art in this University. A history can be as long or as short as one chooses to make it, and one could make much of the distinguished and devoted people, the troubles and the achievements of the Department throughout its history–more, perhaps, than many of you want to hear. But I think it would be appropriate and useful to speak at least of the beginnings–the genesis of the Department.

The first mention of the Department of Art, in those specific words, in the Public Records of the University is in the Announcements of 1902-03. Here are listed offerings by three men: Frank Tarbell, James Breasted, and George Zug. Everyone knows who James Breasted was, but I suspect few here know who George Zug was (he taught courses in art from the medieval period on into modern). Some of you may know of Frank Tarbell, a member of the Department of Greek. In 1893 he got the whole thing started by offering three courses: “Introduction to Classical Archaeology,” “Greek Mythology in Greek Art,” and “Greek Life from the Monuments.” From 1895 until 1902 he, with Professor Breasted, constituted the ancestor of the Department of Art under the designation "Department of Classical Archaeology," and from 1893 to 1895 he was its sole faculty member. The qualities and accomplishments of Professor Tarbell, and of those who joined him in the first years of the Department, and of their successors in the following decades, are indeed considerable and have contributed notably to the lustre of the University. Instead of detailing these accomplishments, I should like rather to emphasize by contrast what the net result of it all has been and what the Department of Art is today. From one man teaching three courses, the Department has become a curiously, and sometimes obscurely, complex organism.

There is the faculty of the history of art, with some 15 members teaching courses and directing research in the history of European and oriental art from classical times to the present; the faculty of the Midway Studios, five in number, giving instruction in the practice of art; the Bergman Gallery, itself a College facility, but with a program shared by the Department, which includes teaching in the regular academic curriculum of the College combined with public exhibitions and extra-curricular studio activity for students; the collection of slides, one of the best in the country, which services the teaching activity; the Max Epstein Archives, also one of the largest in the country, which provides materials for research and study for both faculty and students; the art library, which is again not under the direct administration of the Department, but is designed to function in teaching and research in special and intimate ways. It is different in many respects from other parts of the University Library because of the special character of the books and the ways in which they are used in teaching and research.

While not the largest in the country, or in the University, the Department is still large. It is almost impossible to represent in figures the “size” of a department, but I could tell you that during the academic year 1970-71 there were 1,039 registrations in 146 courses in the graduate and undergraduate programs in the history of art; 326 registrations in the College Humanities introduction to art; 344 registrations in courses in studio art. But these figures do not represent the totality of our contact with students. Through the Bergman Gallery, and through our affiliation with the Renaissance Society, we help to make experiences with art available to the whole intra-mural and extra-mural society of the University, and to some extent the community beyond. Many of our staff are active in the world of art in the community at large–as artists, critics, leaders in the movement to discover and preserve historic monuments, and art historians. Many of our students–through force of financial circumstance, perhaps, but nonetheless–are teaching in institutions throughout the entire Chicago area, and our graduates are spread throughout the United States and Canada. Further, with the aid of grants from the Kress Foundation and other external sources of aid, to some extent through affiliations with other institutions in this country and abroad, our advanced students may be found in most of the countries of Europe, in India and in Japan.

In all of this activity–often seemingly unrelated–there is, I believe, a unity of purpose, in the common concern for an understanding of the visual arts as a means of expressing aesthetically (I quote Bruno Bettelheim) the “true nature and essence of reality,” and the idea that by bringing together people with various approaches to the problem, something more may be discovered than by all of them working separately. Some of us are concerned directly with the actual making of meaningful works of art which convey the values of the maker to his public. Others are concerned with those processes as they have been realized in history, and with what the works of art as realized did in fact convey to the public of their own time and may convey to us in understanding the historical public and in expanding our own understandings. Others are concerned with bringing these understandings to people through the experience of art in the ordinary environment of life.

This Department is unusual, if not unique, in attempting at least to create and maintain an effectual community and interchange among these various activities. Of course much of this should be taken for granted in The University of Chicago, but I dwell on it today to illuminate the point of history where we now stand, 78 years after Professor Tarbell announced the first course in the history of art. For today marks not simply the beginning of a new building, but the beginning of a new phase for the study of art in this University. During the last 35 or 40 years the Department has functioned in essentially the quarters it now occupies. It was only recently that the Bergman Gallery in Cobb Hall was given to the College. The Midway Studios have remained for a generation in the already historic studios of Lorado Taft where they were born, and it was only a few years ago that the energy and generosity of the Women's Board provided funds for their renovation and for the limited enlargement we hope will be completed this year.

But the investigation and teaching of the problems of art in the historical dimension, with the collection of slides, the archive of photographs, the library of books, has remained in Goodspeed Hall, increasingly cramped, and there has been no University gallery at all. The arts, in almost all ages and places, depend heavily on the patron. Good patrons–sensitive, understanding, intelligent patrons–have been responsible for saving many of the great artists of the world and many of their significant works. We hope and depend on such patrons to help us develop our ideal of increasing the understanding of art in its historical dimensions. Some, we hope, will make gifts of appropriate works of art. But there must also be patrons who understand the other needs of a department of art in a university, in its own peculiar processes of increasing the understanding of the meaning of art and disseminating that understanding to its students and the community.

For this Department to fulfill its function ideally conceived, there is required not only an ideal and a faculty, but patrons who understand the ideal and also the processes and their needs: the Gallery–to present works of art in accordance with the purpose; the instructional building–in which the students and faculty can work in more formal ways; and the library and archives–on which their work is based. On this day, which marks a conspicuous point in the history of the Department, we would express our appreciation to two such patrons. The thoughtful understanding of the Smart family and the guiding spirits of the Woods Charitable Fund allow us to embark here on the construction of such a gallery and such an instructional building–a giant step toward the realization of the goal.

John Smart
Chairman of the Board of Esquire, Inc.

I am very glad to be here for this groundbreaking ceremony for the Cochrane-Woods Art Center and the David and Alfred Smart Gallery. And I am glad that this building is rising in Chicago, the city in which I grew up and the city I will probably always consider my home. My brothers, David and Alfred, were born in Omaha, but they came to Chicago when they were so young that they, too, considered Chicago their real home for the first half of this century. It is fitting that Chicago should be the site of a building that honors their memory. They were always grateful to this city as the place that gave them the opportunity to make good.

Within the city of Chicago the choice of The University of Chicago as the location for this building is also logical. The University has a long history of independence and tough-mindedness–qualities that both my brothers admired and that I feel they stood for themselves. Because they both believed in and practiced individual initiative, I know they would have approved of the giving of this gallery to an institution that is privately supported and free of government restraints, one that has pursued a course characterized by willingness to experiment, to test and to risk being wrong. This characteristic has led The University of Chicago to become and to continue to be an innovator and a leader in higher education. This country needs universities that are independent and have a pioneering spirit, that have both the means and the inclination to chart a course that others may follow. Probably there are only two or three other universities in this whole country–certainly no more than a handful–of which that can be said.

I'm sure my two brothers would want to lead the applause for the Smart Family Foundation's choice of The University of Chicago as the site of this building which is going up in their honor. David and Alfred Smart were workers in the labor force of the arts. I am using the term in its broadest sense, to include magazines and films which help to spread the art of appreciation, which is, after all, the foundation for the appreciation of art. As such, they would be pleased and honored today to know that their efforts to broaden the appreciation of art will be carried on, in their name, and on the highest level. As their surviving brother, I feel absolutely sure that I can speak for both of them when I say that they would deeply appreciate this moment.

Frank H. Woods
Vice President and Treasurer of the Woods Charitable Fund, Inc.

This is a great day for The University of Chicago. The breaking of ground for the Cochrane-Woods Art Center, the David and Alfred Smart Gallery and the Sculpture Court is a ceremony of future significance. It reflects the growing awareness of the importance of the arts not only by this university, but also by all universities and society in general. There is an increasing realization of the arts as part of man's development, as able not only to enrich life but also to illuminate it. I am not suggesting that appreciation of the arts in Chicago is a recent development.

The original building of the Chicago Historical Society perished in the great fire of 1871. Its president in 1877 issued a clarion call for the city to develop its cultural facilities (perhaps to counter its “Hog Butcher” reputation). The next 20 years were fruitful. The Art Institute opened in 1879. The Symphony first played in 1891. The Columbian Exposition of 1893 stimulated interest in both art and architecture. The Field Museum of Natural History was a result of the 1893 Fair. These years saw the beginning of the Chicago School of Architecture with Sullivan and Adler and, later, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Professor Scranton has reminded us that courses in history of art date back to the earliest days of the University. Lorado Taft, one of the great sculptors of the day, made his home at The University of Chicago. Taft attracted other sculptors and artists to his workshop in Midway Studios. The Studios–now a National Historic Landmark–are today the home of the University's programs in painting, sculpture, graphics, and ceramics. But while the arts have flourished on the Midway, they have had no focal center of their own. This concept was often discussed, but it was not until 1965 that definitive planning got underway. Ed Barnes evolved a plan that could be programmed in four phases as financing was assured. Today marks the start of Phase I-the Cochrane-Woods Art Center, the David and Alfred Smart Gallery and the Sculpture Court. We can hope that this start will encourage future funding of the Art Library, the Music Building and the Theatre. All are equally needed and important to the future of a “complete University.”

You may wonder at the hyphenated name given to the Art Center. My mother was a Cochrane–a Nebraskan though Illinois born–and had many friends in the university community with whom she was in contact until her death in 1950. The friends are long gone, but many here will readily recall the name Abbott, among others. How she and they would have liked to join in this ceremony. With support of the arts a charter commitment given to us by the founders of the Woods Fund in 1941, our Trustees readily responded to the University’s planning. We are proud to share in this facility which we believe will further enhance The University of Chicago as a leading force in American higher education.

Edward H. Levi
President of the University of Chicago

All of us are conscious today that we are making a major commitment to the future. What we do now has been long in coming. Seven years after this University was founded, President Harper called for the 'establishment of the Department of Art. “The aesthetic side of educational work has not yet been recognized by the University. The conditions, indeed, make it impossible for men and women, whatever may be their talent, to pursue studies along these lines. No objection could have been made to this policy fifty years ago, but in these modern days, when in every stage of educational process the aesthetic plays so important a part, to ignore it... is to blind ourselves and those whom we are guiding.”

I find some rueful satisfaction that it took another five years before the Department of Art was created. It emerged through the transformation of the Department of Classical Archeology. Its first chairman, Frank Tarbell, was a classicist who studied the works of antiquity. It is a pleasant coincidence–and perhaps more than a coincidence–that the present distinguished chairman is in the same tradition. Professor Tarbell, as new chairmen of new departments are likely to do, soon urged upon the University the necessity for proper facilities, so that when the "time comes, it will be possible, given the necessary funds, gradually to equip the Department with casts of coins, of gems, and of works of bronze and marble sculpture, with copies of studies of paintings, and perhaps even with the original works of art, ancient and modern." That was in 1904. Today, 67 years later, we commence the building of these facilities.

I do not for a moment suggest that the history of the Department of Art at The University of Chicago can be written in terms of this deliberate speed. It has had facilities, for after all somehow it has been housed, and its facilities have been significantly added to in recent years. The Midway Studios, through the efforts of the Women's Board of the University, and the Bergman Gallery, on the top floor of the modernized Cobb Hall, given through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Bergman, have made it increasingly possible for our students, particularly undergraduates, to have the experience of working in the visual arts, and to observe the creation of significant works by experienced artists in residence. Moreover, for many years the work of the Department has been enormously enhanced by its possession of the Max Epstein Archives, a superb collection of photographs of original works now numbering half a million.

Through the years the work of the Department has proceeded, frequently marked with the greatest distinction, not of possessions, perhaps, but of those faculty and graduates whose insights and scholarship reflect the excellence which this University has sought to attain. And as to this excellence, in this area as well as others, one may dare to suggest that it is built upon the conception of the unity and relatedness of knowledge and understanding, so that an awareness of pattern and structure, tradition and innovation gains strength here from the work of the entire University, and pervasively adds to the quality of the whole institution.

This is a perverse university. One could say there are many reasons not to begin the creation of an art building and an art gallery today. The financial difficulties of the private universities are well known. We need no new warnings of the financial cost of galleries; I have no doubt we shall be reminded of this fact more often than we would wish. Moreover, it is commonplace that many galleries at many universities do not contribute in any central way to teaching and research. During this period when budgets are being reduced, and projects everywhere being prodded to have immediate practical results, in terms of goals set forth in the latest opinion poll, endeavors quaintly termed cultural are frequently the first targets for elimination.

There are, undoubtedly, many reasons for extending the 67 year delay into the indefinite and uncertain future. And yet, in a way which I think is characteristic of our University in its endeavor to be true to itself, we have determined to go ahead. Indeed, we hope the earth we turn today marks not only the beginning of an art building and an art gallery, but a music building, an art library later to come, and a modest theater as well. We propose an eventual cultural center, of which the Art Center will be an important part, knowing that, unlike some state-supported institutions, we cannot count upon instant creation. It is the organic growth over the many years, not only of art, but of music and the student theater as well–each quite individualistic, and with different dimensions, strengths and opportunities–which gives us the confidence to know we are dealing with essential elements that help make up the pattern of the educational experience.

It is not accidental that the work of the Art Department occupies a central relationship to humanistic teaching and research and to the extraordinarily successful efforts of the University to add to the understanding of non-western cultures. I have remarked on the coincidence of the first and the present chairman's work in classical archeology. But it is more than a coincidence in that one would always find with this department similar relationships which reflect the centrality of its work in the life of the University. Since we are determined to go ahead, we are particularly fortunate that the structures for the Center and the gallery within the Center have been made possible by most generous gifts from the Woods Charitable Fund and the Smart Family Foundation. I should say to Frank Woods, our Trustee, and John Smart, our former neighbor, that we welcome them not only for today, but for many similar occasions.

The Cochrane-Woods Art Center will consist of two limestone buildings enclosing a sculpture garden. The Center is named in honor of the family of the late Frank Henry Woods and his wife, the late Nelle Cochrane Woods, who endowed the Woods Charitable Fund. A major portion of the Cochrane-Woods Art Center will be the David and Alfred Smart Gallery, named in honor of the founders of Esquire Magazine. The David and Alfred Smart Gallery will consist of 7,000 square feet of exhibit space for permanent collections and traveling exhibits, a conservation room, darkroom, storage area, a workshop and administrative offices. The Cochrane-Woods Art Center will have classrooms, a 50-seat lecture hall and faculty studies. Chairman Tarbell dreamed of the University's having its own collections of original works of art. The Center and Gallery will be endowed with the impressive collection of 200 paintings, lithographs and works of sculpture contributed by Mr. and Mrs. Joel Starre1s in honor of their son, Joel, who was my student and my friend. Katharine Kuh, the noted art critic, will present another 200 works, a testament to her remarkable powers of discrimination, knowledge and discovery, and her commitment to this institution. Mrs. Claire Zeisler is donating her extraordinary collection of primitive African sculpture, contemporary paintings and sculpture, and American Indian basketry. These works of art will augment those already on campus, including the Joseph Shapiro collection from which students and faculty arc privileged to rent pieces at nominal fees to experience in their own rooms and homes.

The buildings which will be created have been designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes to display rather than to distract from the works exhibited, and to enhance communication among the scholars. He has skillfully prepared his design so that the other buildings of the cultural center, when they come, will complement and relate to these structures. Indeed, with a humor and wit which architects do not always possess, he has made the second floor art library dependent upon the completion of the music building upon which it will rest. What self-fulfilling optimism we hope this is! The importance of the Cochrane-Woods Art Center and the David and Alfred Smart Gallery, of course, cannot be assured even by the notable design and the extraordinary collections which have been given. It will depend upon the wisdom and help of many–Chairman Scranton and other members of the faculty of the Art Department who have created this Center through their ideas, their work, the tradition they exemplify and, what has sometimes been more difficult, their acquiescence in the carrying out of their ideas. But just as I know through my own experience the great number of individuals who hoped and waited more years than they thought possible for this groundbreaking, so I think into the future of those faculty and students who will come and who will add a part of their lives to the meaning of these structures. In behalf of these future students and faculty, I thank all of you who have made this possible.