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Kenneth C. Lindsay Study Room

A tribute to Kenneth Lindsay

Harpur College helps to unveil study room
in University Art Museum

by Eric Coker

Harpur College paid tribute to one of its greatest scholars when the Kenneth C. Lindsay Study Room officially opened in the University Art Museum on Oct. 11.

“This is a room in which we will be able to renew the kind of art-history teaching that Ken believed in so much,” said John Tagg, professor of art history and comparative literature. “It is teaching that begins with the encounter between the student and the object or the artifact.”

Lindsay arrived at Harpur College in 1951 and would go on to chair the Art History Department for 17 years. He retired from the University in 1989 and received the University Medal in 2007 for his contributions as a Monuments Man during World War II, in which he helped to save European art treasures that had been seized by the Nazis. Lindsay died in 2008 at age 89.

“What delights me, too, is that by teaching in this room, we are going to be able to remember one of the key founders of this institution – one of the people who came here when this was nothing but a field,” Tagg said. “He is one of those people who built not just the fabric of Harpur College, but also its ethos.”

The Homecoming celebration featured remarks from Tagg; Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Donald Nieman; Harpur College Dean Anne McCall; and University Art Museum Director Diane Butler. About two dozen people, including Lindsay’s wife Christine, attended the celebration, which also featured a lecture from one of Lindsay’s protégés: William Voelkle ’61, curator and department head of medieval and renaissance manuscripts at the J.P. Morgan Library and Museum in New York.

The study room, located at the rear of the first floor of the Art Museum, offers a long table where up to 20 students can study or observe prints, photographs or art pieces. Tagg and Butler have already installed several objects in the room, which also features two custom-made print rails.

Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Don Nieman speaks with Christine Lindsay, wife of Kenneth Lindsay
Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Don Nieman speaks with Christine Lindsay, wife of Professor Kenneth Lindsay.

Nieman, who previously served as dean of Harpur College, said it has been a longtime goal to develop a stronger relationship between the Art Museum and the Art History Department. A study room, he said, is perfect for “faculty to use objects from the museum’s collection to teach classes.”

“That seemed like an important thing to me,” Nieman said. “And it was the vision that Ken Lindsay had for the University Art Museum and its permanent collection. A slide does not substitute for an original work of art.”

Nieman credited art history faculty members; Harpur College Assistant Dean Sondra Hilldale and other Harpur staff members; and Butler and her staff with creating a room that will be an “enormous asset” to faculty and staff.

“To me, this embodies taking our best traditions of Harpur College and giving them a contemporary manifestation to guide us into the future,” Nieman said. “It is fitting that this space is named for Kenneth Lindsay.”

Butler noted that the study room has not only been used by members of the Art History Department, but classes from other departments. For example, students from an archeology class recently examined contemporary pots made in Mexico and the American Southwest. English graduate students will soon examine paintings and prints featuring images of race and immigration, she said.

“We are already branching out into other departments and I am delighted by that,” she said.

Mark Tevelow, husband of Lindsay’s daughter Jennifer, said the couple was impressed by the ceremony.

“(Kenneth Lindsay) was such an open, giving person,” Tevelow said after the dedication. “Anyone could be in a room and he would sit down and engage them. That’s the kind of person he was. He was an amazing scholar and a Monuments Man. But he never played up those things. When you were in his presence, he was no longer talking about himself. He was there for you. He guided and mentored and taught so many people. He had an amazing impact on a lot of people.”

Voelkle was one such person. He has worked at the Morgan Library and Museum since 1967 and has served as curator of medieval and renaissance manuscripts since 1983. Voelkle returned to the University to take part in the dedication and offer a lecture and slide presentation on "A Curatorial Conversation: 12 Favorites from the Morgan Library Collection" in the Fine Arts Museum.

William Voelkle '61
William Voelkle '61 delivers his presentation, "A Curatorial Conversation: 12 Favorites from the Morgan Library Collection."

Among the highlights was Voelkle’s discussion of Morgan’s first illuminated manuscript: the Lindau Gospels from the late 9th century. Not only did Voelkle discuss the manuscript, whose binding was made at the workshop of Charlemagne’s grandson Charles the Bald, but he showed a slide of the original cable sent from Morgan’s nephew in 1899 informing him of the potential purchase.

“The first two words of the cable – and other key words – are written in code,” Voelkle said. “The price further down is translated to (the offer of) 10,000 pounds.”

Morgan eventually purchased the Lindau Gospels in 1901. It was the first of the more than 1,400 manuscripts that the museum now has.

“Morgan must have been quite pleased and inspired by this acquisition,” he added. “In the next dozen years before his death, he assembled no less than 600 manuscripts.”

At Harpur College, Voelkle was a math major who decided to take Lindsay’s ART101 class.

“In one semester, he went from cave painting to the 20th century,” Voelkle said. “It was quite an awesome task that he did brilliantly. This made me think I should give art history another look.”

Voelkle finished with a bachelor’s degree in math, but returned to Harpur for a fifth year and took more art history courses. He received his master’s degree in art history from Columbia University and served as director of visual resources at Harpur College before taking a position at the Morgan Library and Museum.

“If a single man can change a career, Kenneth Lindsay could,” Voelkle said. “I only stand here today because of him.”

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Last Updated: 12/10/14