Sept. 20, 2022 | Lynn Daris

SOUTH HADLEY – After two long years of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum reopened on Sept. 2, and The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum announced that it will reopen its doors on Oct. 1.
The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum was founded in 1876 and is one of the oldest teaching museums in the United States. It houses permanent collections with “more than 24,000 works of art, decorative art and material and visual culture from around the world and time,” and its subsidiary, The Joseph Skinner Allen Museum.
The Art Museum has added a series of new collections during the past two years, including solo exhibitions by Lenka Clayton – “Comedy Plus Tragedy” (Sept. 28, 2021, through May 29). and vanessa german – “THE RAREST BLACK WOMAN ON THE PLANET EARTH” (Oct. 13 through May 28) as part of the Skinner Museum’s 75th Anniversary series, “Skinner Museum 75,” that celebrates the bequest of the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum to the college in 1946.
The Skinner Museum is located on the north campus of Mount Holyoke College. It was created by the late Joseph Allen Skinner in 1932. “In 1929, Skinner acquired a Congregational church from the town of Prescott, Massachusetts – a structure that was scheduled for demolition to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir. The church and other buildings were moved piece-by-piece and reconstructed on the present site in South Hadley. Skinner’s museum opened to the public in 1932, and for more than a decade, he acquired new objects and displayed them for the residents of South Hadley, the students of Mount Holyoke College, and visitors from afar,” according to the museum’s website.
The museum’s large open room is filled with thousands of early 19th and 20th century “unusual and interesting objects of a collector and a time and history of American museums,” said Aaron Miller, associate curator of visual and material culture at The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. These objects include an array of rocks, minerals, fossils, shells and ceramics and glass of early New England, along with objects from various cultures and places and an assortment of musical instruments, “It’s a kind of place you have to see it to really believe it,” said Miller.
He said that in 2017, talks began about a project of bringing in contemporary artists to study and engage with the collection. During the past two years, Clayton and german visited and studied the eclectic objects and created a new body of work according to their experiences.
The first in the series was by Clayton, a conceptual artist whose work focuses on “uncovering truth about everyday life, and one of her methods is exploring museum collections and their histories. She selected individual objects that once amazed Joseph Allen Skinner and has reactivated them for a 21st-century audience.”
For german, an artist, activist, performer and poet, “the exhibition began with a question: ‘How do we decolonize a thing, a museum, a collection?’ Her answer turned into an emancipatory endeavor: to touch every object in the Skinner collection. In this way, the artist felt that the story of the Skinner Museum could be reanimated and retold.”
On Oct 13 at 5:30 p.m. Mount Holyoke College Art Museum will host german’s show for their free grand reopening event. The artist will be in-person for “Artist Talk: The Concert” in the college’s auditorium at 5:30 p.m., and a reception will follow at the art museum.
Two other noted special exhibitions happening at the art museum during regular business hours are: “Considering Indigeneity,” which primarily draws from the permanent collection of historical and contemporary works, and a show called “Form and Figment: Highlights from the Permanent Collection.” Miller added, along with its various collections, “It’s an encyclopedic museum, so we have temporary art back to antiquity.”
He also noted that with the Oct. 1 reopening of the Skinner Museum, they are hoping that people will visit the art museum and Skinner. “I feel that both Vanessa’s show kind of knowing that context with the Skinner Museum is really significant and the Skinner Museum just as a standalone is certainly worthy of a visit.”
The Skinner Museum is located at 33 Woodbridge St. South Hadley and is open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Mount Holyoke College Art Museum is located at 50 College St.. South Hadley, and the hours are Tuesday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, readers can visit https://artmuseum.mtholyoke.edu/
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