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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.
From Cadet Bands to the Department of Music
Like courses in Basic Design and Drawing, Music courses formed an integral part of the institution’s curriculum from the 1890’s. Of course, in those early years and throughout the proud history of UConn, the rich extra-curricular tradition of marching bands, glee clubs, orchestras, and other ensembles also formed a vital part of the heritage of the institution, and a vital source of its outreach to the broader community, region, and nation. The Music Department was officially formed in 1931. Its first Head was Professor Herbert A. France, who composed <i>UConn Husky<i/> the beloved fight song sung by proud Huskies to this day.
From drama clubs to the Speech and Drama Department
Courses in Speech and Drama made a somewhat later appearance into the institution’s official curriculum than Art and Music courses. Of course, early extra-curricular clubs such as the College Shakespearean Club and touring theatre troupes such as the State College Players not only formed a vital part of the institution’s extra-curricular life, but served as an important source of outreach to communities further afield as well. However, evidence points to the fact that the first official drama courses were not offered until 1924. In that year, Professor Howard A. Seckerson of the English Department organized the State College Players in the contexts of a Modern Drama class. During the 1923-24 school year, the Players traveled over 3,000 miles performing a repertory of nine plays for nearly 50 performances. Their touring helped to promote state-wide interest in and acceptance of play production. The Speech and Drama Department was formed in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1949. Upon the founding of the School of Fine Arts in 1961, the name of the Department became the Theatre Department.
Original homes of the Music Department
The earliest known building associated with Music activities on campus stood on the present site of Whitney Hall, across from the Great Lawn between Rt. 195 and Beach and Gulley Halls. It was known as “Valentine House,” or “Music House.”
The next building to become a ‘hallowed hall’ for Music classes and performances was known as Mechanics Hall, which still stands near the Storrs Congregational Church. This building housed Music classes, rehearsals, and concerts from the time of the Department’s official creation in the College of Arts in 1931, until the Department’s move in 1959 to the newly constructed fine arts campus in the building now known as the Drama/Music Building.
Original home of Drama productions
Hawley Armory, constructed around 1912, was the site of the earliest recorded campus dramatic productions. These were staged by the Dramatics Club in 1916. The Armory was home to countless other productions reaching well into the 1940s and 1950s. Upon its formation in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1949, the Speech and Drama Department opened office, classroom, and other spaces in temporary, military styled buildings located in South Campus. In 1952, the newly constructed Student Union Building joined Hawley Armory as a site for numerous dramatic productions and performance events.
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.
Formation of College of Arts sparked interest in a separate Fine Arts School
The College of Arts, later to be renamed the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was formed in 1940, and brought together in the same academic family the three separate Departments: Home Economics, Music, and Speech and Drama. For this reason, 1940 is an important year in what might be thought of as the ‘pre-history’ of the School of Fine Arts. Within the decade, a gradual consensus began to develop that these artistic disciplines belonged together in separate, independent School of Fine Arts. This evolving consensus culminated with the approval by the University Board of Trustees of the establishment of the School in 1961. The School was comprised of the Art Department, later to be re-named the Art and Art History Department, the Department of Theatre, presently known as the Department of Dramatic Arts, and the Department of Music. The School of Fine Arts was officially established in 1961.
In order to review the history of an individual department and its relationship to the School of Fine arts, click on “See Timeline entries relevant to one of these at a time” in the left sidebar, then on the name of the department, or on one of the other constituent parts of the School. We found that three factors have contributed and will continue to contribute to the health and vitality of our programs. Should you wish to focus on one of these, click on Origins, Leadership or Donors.
In chronicling the period between 1940 and 1961, our timeline will focus primarily on those major events and developments associated with the gradual gathering of forces and the generation of a steady groundswell of interest in, and enthusiasm for, the creation of the School of Fine Arts. In the forties, the remarkable changes in campus life, and to the curriculum, brought about by the presence of thousands of GI’s returning from the battlefields of World War II will be noted. Then, the transformative changes brought on in the fifties by the wide-ranging and ambitious building and renovation campaign charted and brought to fruition through the leadership of University President Albert N. Jorgensen will be outlined.
Herbert France appointed first full-time Professor of Music
Herbert France was appointed first full-time Professor of Music in 1942. He had been appointed to teach music by President McCracken in 1931. His appointment as a Professor of Music marked a culmination of a long, proud tradition of Music instruction at the institution dating to the 1880s.