Catherine G. Murphy Gallery Director Kathy Daniels '73 talks about art, success and this year's lineup.
BY SARA GILBERT
PHOTO BY TONY NELSON
KATHY DANIELS '73 was a first-year student at the College of St. Catherine when the new visual arts building opened in 1970. As a studio arts major, Daniels was impressed by the space and what it meant to the students. Her own work was part of the juried senior exhibition there in 1973 – just a few years before alumna Catherine G. Murphy '30 endowed the building's gallery now named in her honor.
When the opportunity to serve as director of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery became available in the early 1990s, Daniels had already spent almost 20 years teaching art, running a gallery, earning a master's degree in art history and working in marketing. It was the right opportunity at the right time.
"This position was meant for me," Daniels says. "It felt like I was coming home, with more experience and knowledge. All those other things had to happen first before I could be ready to do this."
Daniels time is now spent planning and presenting several exhibitions each year, including the current showing of 31 giclée prints from The Saint John's Bible (running through October 28). She also arranges shows with students, faculty and artists from around the state and around the world. The work keeps her both challenged and invigorated. "The possibilities are so exciting," she says.
The gallery satisfies Daniels need to be involved in art – although it comes with the occupational hazard of owning too much art herself, she laughs. "Art is just at my very core," Daniels says. "It opens so many doors for me. It takes me into philosophy, history and science. If I get too far away from art, it's just not healthy."
Describe the mission of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery and the role it plays on campus.
The vision of the gallery is to engage the St. Kate's community and the larger community with women-centered visual arts while supporting the mission of the College. The gallery exists as an integral part of the education of St. Kate's students.
How has the gallery had an impact on people on campus or in the community?
I'll give you this example: Former St. Catherine professor Miranda Blazevic-Krietzman brought her writing classes to the gallery and encouraged them to use the exhibitions as a source for subjects in writing assignments. She eventually published the works of her students' essays in a text called A Woman Is a Woman Is a Woman.
On a more individual level, gallery interns receive professional training and experience that has greatly helped them in their professional pursuits – such as Erika Holmquist-Wall '02, an assistant curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).
What makes this gallery unique?
Two-thirds of the venues are set aside for women-centered exhibits, because St. Catherine is a woman-centered institution that has committed to being a women's college. Often, that means women artists – but it also means women's issues, even if the art is created by men. One of this year's shows is by St. Kate's photography professor Todd Deutsch. Chasing the Family Drift will show five years worth of photographing his children.
Does every student on campus come through the gallery?
No, but that is my ultimate goal. Because of the core program, which incorporates aesthetics into "The Reflective Woman" course and book, a greater percentage of students go through the gallery. Often, students are in awe when they come here – some had no idea that this was here.
How does the gallery fit into the overall mission of the College?
I've tried to integrate the gallery's exhibits into what we do and teach here. An upcoming show called The Vanishing includes four women artists in their 60s and 70s who explore in their art the experience of growing old. I'm hoping the show will be the stepping-off point for the social work faculty to address some of the issues related to an aging population. My goal is to develop programming through the health sciences, specifically social work, around this exhibition.
What are other ways the gallery reaches out to non-art students?
Art plays such a large role in society that it should not be limited just to art students. For the Paths Crossed show last year, for example, a class of nursing students came over from the Minneapolis campus. It was wonderful for them to see the show, listen to the artists and then ask questions about the art. It was a show by an African American woman and an African woman. I could see an impact happening.
How do the exhibitions come about?
In many different ways. In one recent wonderful example, two local women working with an organization to bring Breaking the Veil to the Twin Cities approached me. It's a major exhibition of women artists from the Islamic world that has been traveling around Europe and Australia. These women sought out the Catherine G. Murray Gallery specifically. We're a natural fit for this show, and it speaks to both our vision and our mission. We're planning it for 2010.
How did The Saint John's Bible exhibition happen?
That was serendipitous. The director of the library had stopped in and was talking about The Saint John's Bible. I was hesitant, because I try to choose exhibits not showing elsewhere in the Twin Cities, and this one already had been seen at the MIA. But something about this show was interesting, and I just happened to have a scheduled show that wasn't going to happen so we scheduled it.
Why did The Saint John's Bible exhibit capture your attention?
We are a Catholic college, and it seems to be the right time to shine the spotlight on the Catholic tradition. Many different groups on campus are helping support this exhibit, including the Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity, the Sister Mona Riley Endowed Chair of the Humanities, the Friends of the College of St. Catherine Libraries and the Friends of the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery, as well as the College's Alumnae and Development offices.
Finally, Saint John's University agreed to give us some prints that are being shown for the first time in our exhibit. The organizer also gave us the largest group of prints ever to be exhibited, which proved an interesting challenge to install.
What is the most complicated installation you've put together for the gallery?
Sandra Menefee Taylor's commissioned installation, The Preservation of Women's Spirit, SALTWORKS, for the College's Centennial in 2005 was one of the more challenging and yet rewarding installations. It started with the concept of a show that would reflect some aspect of our Centennial celebration, and bit by bit the exhibition took shape.
One of the artist's goals was to involve the College community as much as possible – so one whole wall in the east wing of the gallery was filled with salt-figures created by students, alumnae, faculty, staff, CSJs and friends of the College. Seven tons of salt were used to cover the majority of the floor in both wings – carried in and out with the help of students, faculty and staff. The overall effect was spectacular, and the Star Tribune published a full-page review of this breathtaking installation.
What's a typical year?
At the end of the school year, we always have the juried show for seniors. That's sacred space. I also always try to offer one faculty show each year. Students should see the work our faculty are doing and recognize that they are professional artists, working in their own medium. And I am constantly receiving proposals of shows to curate at the gallery – more than we have space or time for.
How do you decide which shows to accept?
I meet with a committee twice a year. We look at the content, the message and the theme of the exhibit, as well as how much time it will take. The Saint John's Bible, for example, is more time consuming because more players and so many visuals are involved.
What else do you do in your role as gallery director?
I oversee St. Catherine's fine arts collection and help display artwork within the College. Right now I'm prioritizing public spaces and displaying works by women artists.
How has Catherine G. Murphy's endowment helped the gallery – and has this gallery fulfilled her vision?
It has made all the difference in the world. Her trust has empowered this gallery to become what it is. I am thankful for her every day and for the people who helped facilitate her support of the gallery. I don't think she'd have any idea how powerful this space has become. The legacy of her name has become a gallery of great renown.
What do you consider the greatest success of the gallery?
There are two success stories. The first is the success of this small, private-college gallery making its mark on a local, regional and even international level, as evidenced by the Breaking the Veils exhibit. The other success is that it has become an integral part of the College curriculum and another means of manifesting the College's vision and mission.
Sara Gilbert is a freelance writer based in Mankato, Minnesota, and a former editor of U.S. Art.
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