Nestled deep in the heart of Lynchburg, the Maier Museum of Art is the university art gallery of Randolph College. This university is amongst five different colleges that make up approximately 1/16 of the metropolitan population of 240,000. The location invites a diverse foot traffic being so close to the Blue Ridge Mountains as well as central Virginia. It is also on the outskirts of campus and has gone through many renovations to become what it is today. It’s exterior has a mix of Romanesque and colonial elements but it holds its own, even against the similar backdrop of the bucolic landscape because of the history behind it.
The Maier Museum of Art was founded in 1951. It was chosen to be the site of a confidential storage facility called “Project Y” for the National Gallery of Art during the Cold War. Randolph College technically lost the space for a little over 20 years because upon signing the contract with the National Gallery of Art, it remained an emergency facility with regular monitoring. The structure was finished in the spring of 1952 costing under $250,000 to build and was simply called “the art gallery”. By the mid 1970s, Randolph College gained the space back after the renovations funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. It made the space more practical, attractive and comfortable for the students, faculty and the public. Between 1981-1982, due to subsequent repairs, the Sarah and Pauline Maier Scholarship Foundation changed the name from “the art gallery” to its present name established by an endowment in 1983 by the foundation.
The collection mainly holds American art consisting of paintings, works on paper and photography between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The permanent collection was spun off by the commissioned portrait, from the senior class of 1907, of the first president of Randolph College, William Meritt Chase. Randolph College was originally called the Randolph – Macon Women’s College until it became coed on July 1, 2007. It was the first women’s college in the south. The founder, William Waugh Smith went against the grain and won support for the college from the River Mont Land Company. They donated 20 acres of land in central Virginia, which is now the city Lynchburg, Virginia. Smith also raised $100,000 from 150 local residents to found the school on March 10th, 1891, welcoming the first class in 1893 with 36 female students and 12 professors.
In 1911, Louise Jordan Smith, the college’s first professor of art, established an annual exhibition, in compliments to the commissioned portrait, of contemporary art on campus. This particular move made by Smith created the foundation of what the museum still stands for today. The museum represents contemporary art from American Impressionism and early twentieth-century Realism through a national viewpoint of an American culture. The online website will house the entire collection upon finishing but the university is still cataloging which is updated almost regularly. The effort between 2001-2003 jumped off the online database of the collection involving over 95 years worth of records. This effort is still ongoing. The site’s straightforward attitude is shown through the availability of communication through email, recording and showing the last updates made on the website as well as making the collection very easy to look at through four different ways. Everything is right there if you cannot make it directly to the museum.
A very special and distinctive characteristic of the Maier Museum of Art is the Ekphrastic poetry section. Ekphrastic poetry originated in ancient Greece, referring to a description of almost anything but particularly art. It was assigned to Grecian schoolboys as composition exercises about painting and architecture. At the Maier, it is paired with the permanent collections at the Maier and written by elementary school students, high school students, Randolph College students and active adult writers of the central Virginia area. The first publication, in 2005, of the compilation of wide ranging verses was called "Image/Word: A Book of Poems." In 2009, another original exhibition inspired a book of local poetry called "Water Marks: Selections from the Permanent Collections." These two events received very positive results and hence created the part of the university website dedicated to Ekphrastic poetry which also allows anyone to submit verse to the Maier's permanent collection for possible publication. The positive results also attracted their first guest instructor, Keith Ratziaff the poet, taught a class on Ekphrastic poetry.
3 of the 4 paintings removed from the Maier Museum in 2007. (top to bottom, left to right): George Bellows, Men of the Docks, 1912. Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom, 1840-45, Ernest Hennings, Through the Arroyo, undated. The 4th is the backdrop of our website, Rufino Tamayo's Trovador, 1945 (Sold at Christie's).