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Gift of President Beach became art museum’s first major collection
Charles Lewis Beach (1866-1933), President of the University from 1908 to 1928, bought his first painting in 1924 as a gift for his ailing wife, Louise Crombie Beach. She passed later that same year, but Charles continued to buy paintings, established the Louise Crombie Beach Foundation, designated it to receive a portion of his estate and directed that the money be used to continue purchasing works of art. — Paraphrased from an article by Mark J. Roy in the November 3, 1997 issue of the “University Advance.”
Beach was an early Leader and Donor who contributed to the Origins of the School of Fine Arts. This and other events which took place before 1940 will be developed further in posts for events taking place in later decades, in this case, the decade of the 1940s.
From Drawing Classes in Home Economics to the Art Department – 1940s to early 1950s
From the earliest years of the institution’s history in the 1890s, when it was called the Storrs Agricultural College, courses in Drawing and Basic Design were a vital part of the basic student curriculum. Later, in the early part of the twentieth century, the courses were offered by the Home Economics Department. Their purpose was to help students to become better home-makers, and also to prepare them for careers in department stores and the fashion industries. The idea of instituting a separate and independent Art Department would gradually evolve from the basic foundations laid by those early Home Economic courses.
Significant factors contributing to that evolving idea were the changing enrollment patterns sparked by the arrival of thousands of GIs returning from the battlefields of World War II seeking higher education in Storrs and at the newly constructed Avery Point Campus.
A pioneering advocate for a separate Art Department was Home Economics Professor Wilma Belknap Keyes. In charting changing enrollment patterns in Basic Design classes by majors in disciplines outside of Home Economics, she noted that many returning GIs were enrolling in those courses hoping to learn about the history of bombed-out cities they had seen during their military service. The Art Department was established as a Department within the College of Arts and Sciences in 1951.
Pamphlet of course of study in Home Economics, ca. 1945-50
This early Home Economics Department pamphlet, designed by Professor Wilma Keyes, evokes a bygone era in the University’s history, but also provides a glimpse into the types of learning experiences that were available to students enrolling in Design courses offered by the Department.
Original home of the Art Department
Courses in Drawing and Basic Design were traditionally part of the Home Economics Department. From the late-1930s, the courses were taught in the Home Economics building, which still stands in the central portion of the campus. Upon its creation in 1951, the newly formed Art Department opened office, classroom, and other spaces in temporary, military-styled buildings in South Campus. In 1955, the construction of the Albert N. Jorgensen Auditorium provided the Art Department and its patrons with a modern gallery space for exhibits of all kinds. In 1959, The Art Department moved its quarters to the new Fine Arts Building (now known as the Drama/Music Building) built on the site of the post-war, temporary, South Campus buildings.
Wilma Keyes is an early visionary for art(s) at UConn
Wilma Belknap Keyes (1902-1993), a young Assistant Professor, played a distinctive role which fed the groundswell toward a separate Art Department, and, by extension, an independent School of Fine of Fine Arts. She taught Drawing and Design coures in the Home Economics Department throughout a career spanning thirty-eight years, from 1923 to 1963. She once observed that “there were five art courses when I arrived. There were sixty when I retired.”
Illustrative record of Art course registrations, 1937-1945
1945- 1946 Home Economics Professor Wilma B. Keyes documented revealing patterns of increased enrollments in Drawing and Basic Design courses on the part of students with majors outside of Home Economics. Based on these creatively illustrated charts, she concluded that “a separate Art Department was simply inevitable.” Her prediction came true when the Art Department was created in 1951.
WW II GIs return home to “Siberia”
The return of thousands of GIs from WWII battlefields created tremendous changes in university life throughout the country. Perhaps the most dramatic change in Storrs took place when the South Campus witnessed the hasty construction of a number of temporary, military barracks-like structures designed to accommodate returning vets and the academic classes whose enrollments were dramatically heightened by their presence. The Art and the Drama Departments were housed in these buildings, which were known, collectively, as “Siberia.”
Student life in “Siberia”
Those living on the South Campus called it “Siberia” and found it reminiscent of an Army camp — mud and dirt roads, little hot water, leaky roofs. Prefabricated buildings sprouted up on a daily basis. While conditions proved difficult, one former GI remarked, “I figured it’s better to be here than not being in college at all.” — Bruce M. Stave, et al., “Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits: Creating the University of Connecticut, 1881-2006“ (Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2006) p.65.
Cynthia Reeves Snow teaches art
Cynthia Reeves Snow, M.A., was appointed Assistant Professor of Art in the Department of Home Economics.
Speech and Drama Department offices pinpointed on hand drawn campus map
Speech and Drama Department offices just south of map reference 38, Art Department in building 33 on the South Campus.
This is the last entry for the decade of the 1940s. Please return to the sidebar on the home page to continue navigating the timeline by decade.