by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
From 1903 to 1908, major German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz produced the plates for Bauernkrieg, a series of seven darkly evocative etchings that revealed the brutal treatment of peasants in 16th-century Germany and eerily foretold the tragedies of the coming war. In the years since, individual prints in the series were snapped up by different collectors and sent far and wide across the global art market, but today they’re reunited in The Trout Gallery and on display.
Continuing through Oct. 7, Käthe Kollwitz: Bauernkrieg/Peasant War is one of two current Trout exhibitions that were decades in the making. Each one brought together students, alumni, faculty, staff and Dickinson parents with a desire to teach and inspire through art.
The first work in the Kollwitz series, “The Plowing,” came to Dickinson by way of Paul Kanev ’75, a neurosurgeon who was trudging through a grueling residency when he first spied the work in 1986. Kollwitz’s image of an overburdened man struck a chord in the overworked resident, and he purchased it. A decade later, after the Trout exhibited a wider group of art from his collection, Kanev gifted “The Plowing” to the college’s gallery along with three other works.
Print VII, "The Prisoners," was one of two prints purchased through a student-acquisition program.
That etching remained the sole Kollwitz work in the Trout’s permanent collection until last year, when Elon Gordon '18, Maddie Fritz '16 and Lucas Kang '16 purchased two more Bauernkrieg prints for the Trout from Galerie St. Etienne, as part of a new student-acquisition program. The NYC gallery had collaborated with Dickinson on two exhibitions and also would bring the final Kollwitz works to the college, thanks to ties to a former Trout intern, Meta Duevell Bowman ’03.
As an art & art history and French major at Dickinson, Bowman interned at both the Trout and the Galerie St. Etienne, and she worked for St. Etienne during the first six years after graduation. During that time, she reconnected with Trout staff—including James Bowman ’92, the Trout’s registrar and exhibition designer, whom she got to know better via email correspondence and later married. In 2008, Meta Bowman returned to Dickinson, where she now works in the Community Studies Center. Her NYC gallery contacts came in handy last year, as the Trout planned an exhibition showcasing its growing Kollwitz collection.
The plan was to exhibit the full series by borrowing prints II, III, IV and V. When one of the works proved tough to locate, James Bowman tapped his wife’s connections and discovered that St. Etienne had three of the four missing prints and that the cost of insuring, borrowing and shipping those works was comparable to the cost of outright purchasing them. Soon after the Trout began the process of acquiring those pieces with funds from a gift by the class of 1982, the final missing print came into St. Etienne’s possession, allowing Dickinson to complete the series in one whirlwind, seven-week swoop.
“Serendipity at its best!” James Bowman recalls, noting that he enjoyed seeing it all come together. “It’s rare that you are able to pull together an entire series of works that were produced nearly 100 years ago and then dispersed into the general art market, with one lucky call.”
Like all Trout exhibitions, the Kollwitz exhibition also reaches into the lives of current students. Courtney Rogers ’17, a German major with a strong interest in art and social justice, curated the exhibition, with guidance from Trout staff and her advisor, Associate Professor of German Sarah McGaughey. After researching her subject, Rogers created an audio tour and bilingual brochure and panels, and she was so inspired by the experience that she will attend the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next fall, where she’ll enter a Ph.D. program in German studies, focusing on German art history. McGaughey and her German department colleagues, meanwhile, are using Bauernkrieg to teach their students about German history, culture and cultural production.
The exhibition also provided a learning opportunity for Lexi Tobash ’17, an art & art history major and Trout Gallery intern who’s basing her original choreography for the Dance Theatre Group’s spring recital on the body language she observed in Kollwitz’s works.
John Harbold. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.
Another student-curated exhibition, this one of transcendent British landscape drawings and watercolors, brings parent involvement into the mix. Presented by senior art-history majors, A British Sentiment highlights pastoral works, 1750-1950, from the collection of John Harbold, father of Laura ’07, who studied English at Dickinson.
Harbold had acquired the works over the course of some 35 years, and he recently donated several to the Trout’s permanent collection. He saw them in new contexts when he and Laura attended the March 3 opening reception, where they had an opportunity to meet the student-curators and learn about their research.
Like Bauernkrieg, Harbold’s collection is as powerful today as when new. So too are the connections that bind the people behind the exhibitions, Trout Gallery Director Phil Earenfight adds. “As you can see, it’s a web of alumni and others from across the Dickinson community who come together to make grand exhibitions like this possible,” he says, “and we’re very happy that they did.”
Published March 17, 2017