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Fairfield University's Bellarmine Museum of Art Opens to the public Sunday

Published 4:36 pm, Thursday, October 21, 2010
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With the long-awaited public opening of the Bellarmine Museum of Art scheduled for Oct. 25, Fairfield University introduces a permanent sanctuary for its growing art collection and future exhibitions. Museum hours will be Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., while the university is in session.

The museum, built at a cost of $3.2 million, will be a dynamic new center of learning for all of its constituencies, including students of all ages and stages, art professionals and members of the general public. The Bellarmine also maintains collegial ties with the larger museum community, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art/the Cloisters Museum and the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The loans and gifts that these, and other, institutions have made to the Museum have enhanced its core permanent collection, facilitating a remarkable breadth of display for a museum of the Bellarmine's size. It is expected that this architectural gem, which comprises three galleries and an ancillary corridor, will become both a cultural destination and an invaluable resource for art-loving residents and visitors in the area.

Jill Deupi, J.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of art history in Fairfield's Department of Visual and Performing art and director of the Bellarmine Museum of Art, has expansive educational plans for the museum.

"There is no doubt that the Bellarmine Museum will substantially enhance the art history program and all that it has to offer. With the works of art located in one central location that features an onsite multi-media smART classroom, the process of hands-on learning will rise to a new level."

Deupi is currently working on stratagems that include docents, outreach and K-12 arts education encompassing a wide range of activities. Her colleague in this endeavor is New Canaan resident and docent at the Yale Center for British Art Kathleen Leitao, whose son Daniel is a junior at Fairfield. Among their plans is the reservation of one Saturday each month for family art-based activities.

Jim Childress, FAIA and Stephen Holmes, AIA of Centerbrook Architects and Planners of Centerbrook transformed a utilitarian storage area into an elegant yet functional space. Childress said that the thick concrete walls in the catacomb-like basement of the original mansion conveyed a sense of mystery.

"If you step through the small basement door of the lobby, you discover a place of refuge away from the world," he said. "The gallery form we designed was inspired by an almost complete cruciform plan that we discovered in the basement."

The main gallery, The Frank and Clara Meditz Gallery, named in honor of the parents of the lead donor to the project, university trustee John Meditz '70, evokes an early Christian basilica in plan and will showcase ten paintings from the Italian Renaissance and Baroque periods -- works that were gifted to the University by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation via Bridgeport's Discovery Museum.

In one smaller side gallery highlights from the university's collection of plaster casts after exemplary works from ancient Rome and Greece, including eight recently donated to the university by the Acropolis Museum in Athens, will be displayed. The corridor adjacent to the Meditz gallery will showcase plaster casts of significant pieces from the Parthenon (also Athens). The "Gifts from Athens: New Plaster Casts from The Acropolis Museum and Photographs by Socratis Mavrommatis" exhibition will open Nov. 2 and continue through Dec. 17.

In addition to historic plaster casts, the museum houses a range of non-Western art objects (including pre-Columbian vessels, 19th-century South East Asian sculptures and African masks), and is fortunate enough to hold objects from the late Antique, Celtic, Medieval and Romanesque periods on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art/the Cloisters Museum.

Leitao, who is volunteering her time and expertise in planning for museum education, saw an opportunity in the Bellarmine Museum to work with schools to "help them use our collection as part of their curriculum, particularly the casts of ancient Greek sculptures." She said: "There is a lot of focus in museum education today on finding ways to bring art into the classroom to support curriculum goals rather than have the museum be primarily a field trip."

Deupi and Leitao are working together to find ways to build connections between the museum and, as Leitao said, "the university's students as well as for local schools and the community." The physical space intrigues her and she is "also interested in how the intimate nature of this museum and its collection will allow students and community members to become familiar over multiple visits with pieces in the collection in a way that they would not typically experience in a large museum."

The Bellarmine Museum of Art has been, and continues to be, truly a collaborative venture. First, came the vision from faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences, then the buy-in from administrators who understood its fit within the Jesuit university's mission and strategic plan and commenced raising funds to make it possible. In addition to Meditz, other donors to the project include The Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Charles and Mabel P. Jost Foundation. Fundraising for the project and the endowment of the museum remains ongoing. The National Endowment for the Humanities has also provided generous support through an award of a $500,000 four-to-one challenge grant mandating that the University raise $2 million by 2013 to ensure receipt of the NEH challenge. Individuals and representatives of corporations and foundations interested in partnering with the university in supporting the museum are encouraged to contact Geri Derbyshire, director of major gifts at gderbyshire@fairfield.edu.