‘We have two basic needs — to consume and to create’

Schnitzer Museum moves exhibits online amid COVID-19



One of the many pieces in Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art’s collection.

SYDNEY BROWN, Evergreen reporter

As Debby Stinson examined a tall painting in her home, she said she enjoyed watching the textures closely. The light reflected on the painting as she moved around it, and she could remember what it was like to watch the artist create it. 

Viewing art in this way can be “visceral,” she said. Stinson said she wished students this semester had the chance to experience new art exhibits in the same way.

Since COVID-19 closed the doors to the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on campus, museum directors and curators relied on online showings instead. Included in the showings is the Holland and Orton Collection by WSU’s longest-serving president, Ernest Holland.

“This became the seed for our museum,” Schnitzer Museum Curator Ryan Hardesty said.

Ernest Holland was president of what was then Washington State College. He held the position from 1916 to 1945 and served during the Spanish influenza pandemic, said Trevor Bond, WSU associate dean for digital initiatives and special collections.

Holland was also known for his personal connection to the art styles showcased in the collection, Bond said, such as American realism and impressionism. 

Bond said he helped Hardesty’s team choose the key pieces from Holland’s personal art collection that are in the online display. In total, the group searched about 300 boxes of letters and other pieces. 

“I think aspects of that work and his commitment to WSU continue on today and in that legacy that these … collections developed,” Bond said. 

Hardesty said the choice to highlight Holland’s collection was made before the COVID-19 shutdown. When the museum shut its doors, the curator decided to find different ways of showing artists’ work. 

“I love projects that touch on many topics,” Hardesty said. “That’s definitely what this collection does.”

Although Stinson prefers viewing art in person, she said people who cannot make it to the museum can take virtual gallery tours, watch artist introduction videos, and see the art from home. 

“We have two basic needs — to consume and to create,” Stinson said, “and that need to consume art that is meaningful.” 

The museum helped adapt to these needs by expanding their overall web presence, Stinson said. 

Once the shutdown ends, Hardesty said they hope to reopen with the proper restrictions and recommended guidelines for art viewing.

“As a staff, we really want to learn from this moment,” he said. 

When it comes down to it, Hardesty said he believes the museum is an experiential place meant to be lived, not just seen. 

“If you think of the Trimpin: Ambiente432 exhibit, your very presence causes the art to sing with you,” Hardesty said. 

The Holland and Orton Collection opens online May 26. Other exhibits starting online at the same date also include Seattle-based artist Etsuko Ichikawa’s Broken Poems of Fireflies and The Earth Itself from Betty Feves. 

Many of the online collections are planned to be in the museum at some point when the state phases allow for the reopening of the museum. Information on upcoming online exhibits and extra content from the museum can be viewed here.