by Marisa Zemesarajs ’15
The stark, white museum wall is a product of business. consisting of transactions between other museums, galleries, auction houses, and personal collections. All in all, the spaces that house art are always on watch for pieces that will perfectly encapsulate the persona of their institution. This is great for museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA and galleries in Chelsea and Brooklyn, who can entice donors with a swanky, champagne-glimmered benefit and the promise of a plaque in the hall, all in exchange for a Pollock. Smaller museums, like the one here at Denison, take donations and turn them into an opportunity to establish a permanent collection that is rooted in a variety of disciplines: fine arts, archaeology, anthropology, and physics, just to name a few. I’m sitting and typing this in the Museum’s storage room, kicked out of the office as to not distract from student interviews and on every side of me there is an object more different than the last. I spy ancient Roman bricks, Buddhist statues, some Picasso sketches, eastern ceramics, a portrait from the school of Rembrandt, all at once. It’s an eclectic mix, a perfect parallel to the liberal arts experience. This museum is at its core an institution that inspires learning. A museum that displays and collects pieces from one genre is interesting, sure, it has a lot of appeal at face value. But in walking through a gallery whose walls lose distinction from one another, the experience can become stagnant. Our permanent collection requires constant attention, you get to discover things at every corner.
This basis for discovery is made possible by the hundreds of donors that have contributed to our collection throughout the years. Every donor holds a special place within the Museum, which leads me to a recognize a significant donor, Sarah Bekker, who passed away on April 2nd. A recognized scholar of Burma studies, an authority on Burmese Buddhism, and the founder of the Burma Studies Foundation Biennial Sarah M. Bekker prize, Bekker was devoted to the study of visual culture. Sarah and her husband, Konrad generously contributed to our collection of eastern art. As I look through Bekker’s donor file, I am confronted with unique snippets of her interactions with Denison in the 1970s: polaroid photographs, old typewritten letters on tissue-thin paper where a previous director cannot hold his excitement at the newly accessioned pieces (not kidding, the line “Oh boy! I am practically passing out right now as I type” struck me in particular), and handwritten letters from Bekker herself. It’s all very charming and I can’t help but wonder what this woman was like. Her contribution of over 60 items ranging from ceramic bowls, standing Buddha statues, and carved animal figurines is not forgotten. That is what’s great about this museum, we’re excited about the items we receive. Every piece makes a difference and provides a greater understanding of the art world.
On August 27, 1974 a Calvin K. Prine wrote to Mrs. Bekker “We look forward to your continued interest and support of Denison University, and of the treasure house of quality art objects, that you have substantially increased, for the benefit of many fortunate students in days and years to come.” 40 years after this letter was written I am typing this, looking at her contributions (admiring a bohemian printed 19th century tea bowl in particular.) That has to say something. We are all so happy to have pieces that were once a treasured part of Sarah Bekker’s life. Pablo Picasso once said “art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” and with her help the dust is not so thick.