Early last month, the McIninch Art Gallery at Southern New Hampshire University celebrated its 10th anniversary. The gallery, located in Robert Frost Hall at the university’s main campus in Manchester, is a cozy space that is the foundation, but not the entirety, of the school’s fine art offerings.
In addition to the gallery’s five rotating exhibits per academic year, which serve to highlight and complement the School of Arts & Sciences’ curriculum, pieces from the McIninch’s 400-object collection are sprinkled throughout the university, in office spaces and the new Academic Building. When not on display, artwork is stored on-site. Additionally, 10 newly installed sculptures, on loan from local artists, have found temporary homes up and down North River Road and elsewhere on campus.
Gallery director Deborah Disston is responsible for selecting and organizing these works of art around campus as well as creating a vision for the gallery space, which continues to build its permanent collection. A gift from Doug McIninch and the McIninch Foundation in April 2001 established the gallery, which SNHU Professor Robert Craven founded and directed for the first five years of its existence. Disston took over for Craven five years ago and now works with a staff of 14 student interns.
“I was very interested in the growth opportunity that was here,” said Disston, who lives in Concord, Mass. “My goals were in alignment with my predecessor: to have the gallery on campus grow. My long-range plan has always been to have the space become bigger and the art to become bigger,” for the university’s students, staff and faculty and the larger community, she said.
During a recent blustery afternoon, Disston wrapped her mustard-yellow scarf around her neck and guided me in an oblong loop to see each of the 10 on-loan sculptures, nine of which are outdoors. She said she’s been hearing feedback on the sculptures through the grapevine; some people don’t like or understand them, others love them, and still others take a while to notice they’re there, said Disston, chuckling.
The sculpture exhibit begins with artist and gardener Alison Williams’ “Wunderkammer Garden” [wunderkammer is the German word for “wonder-chamber”], a structure containing her garden-inspired paintings and other objects.
The piece “is essentially her interpretation of a Greenhouse and how it relates to her artwork,” Disston later wrote in an e-mail. “She built the structure from found materials, incorporated images of her art that were a direct response to the decay of her garden, and then she included vials of water-saturated flowers, her attempt to extract colored pigment, as an additional way to express the relationship between gardening and art.”
Other sculptures include a glittering stainless steel structure by John Weidman titled “Sunrise of Everywhere,” the commanding and brightly painted stainless steel “X’s 10” by Rob Lorenson, and a site-specific enclosed structure made of meticulously assembled tree branches by Jim Coates called “Tree House.” Inside the latter is a tiny plum tree. The thought is that as the plum tree grows, its branches will interact with and grow around the structure, Disston explained.
On the same afternoon, graduating senior Tim Norton was busy getting ready to install the gallery’s newest exhibit, “Psychedelic Elements,” which runs through March 31. The exhibit, which Norton is curating and which includes his original work as well as psychedelic poster art from the 1960s and 1970s, explores the influence of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau traditions on the graphic design work of that time period. His is the second student-created show to open in the gallery.