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Sacred Texts: A Series of Fortunate Events

By Claire Moncla

The Mayborn Museum Complex has had many traveling exhibits. “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” and the “National Geographic MAPS: Tools for Adventure” are just a few in the long list of exhibits that have visited the museum. But the Mayborn had yet to house an art exhibit until this fall. From September 25 until November 28, the museum will host the “Sacred Texts, Holy Images: Rouault’s Miserere and Chagall’s Bible Series” exhibit. This first-time art exhibit is an anomaly that changing exhibits manager Rebecca Tucker Nall would describe as a happy accident.

Thomas S. Hibbs, the Honors College dean, came to the museum last fall, proposing that the Mayborn house two great art collections—so great in size they wouldn’t fit in Baylor’s Martin Museum of Art. The Mayborn had an opening in their traveling exhibit hall, so the collections were set to appear in fall 2010. “We are not an art museum; we just filled this role” Nall said of the Mayborn. Assistant director of promotions and events Mark Smith added, “We’re the only space on campus big enough to fit these 163 artworks.”

Hibbs said his involvement with the exhibit was also fortuitous. The Mark Foster Foundation contacted Hibbs after reading an article he wrote on the twentieth-century, Christian artist Georges Rouault. Foster, a lawyer who practices domestic and international commercial law in Silicon Valley, was interested in exhibiting his collections of Rouault and Marc Chagall on college campuses. “The idea of the Mark Foster Foundation was to have this art be directly part of the curricular and extracurricular lives of students,” Hibbs said. So, the foundation established the Fine Arts in the Academy, a program dedicated to connecting art and education in university life.

The first exhibit sponsored by the Fine Arts in the Academy was “Sacred Texts, Holy Images: Rouault’s Miserere and Chagall’s Bible Series.” Georges Rouault was a French Catholic artist and stained glass artisan. The Miserere series is a collection of prints that contain both religious themes and social commentary. Chagall was a distinctly Jewish painter, printmaker, and designer in the twentieth century.  The Bible series depicts two of the three sections of the Jewish Tanah, the canon of the Hebrew Bible. “This exhibit is interesting because it takes two rather large series that took each artist a really long time to produce,” Nall said. “Each of the series spanned decades of these artists’ lives.”

“Sacred Text, Holy Images” has turned out to be more of program or project then a museum display. “We wanted to involve wide Baylor participation,” Hibbs explained. Two fall courses, one in the Great Texts program and the other a freshman honors seminar, have the exhibit as a chief part of the curriculum. Hibbs also asked School of Music director of orchestral activities Stephen Heyde to direct a performance by Baylor Symphony on October 7 to compliment the exhibition. “They did a series of musical pieces that were based upon visual arts,” Hibbs said.

In November, the Honors College will be sponsoring the symposium, a conference that will bring some of the premier scholars of Rouault and Chagall to Baylor’s campus—including Makoto Fujimura.  Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist whose works are mostly inspired by Rouault. “He’s sort of a mediator,” Hibbs said. “He’s mediating the East and West and he’s also mediating the secular and the sacred because he’s an abstract artist who’s mediating between advanced, experimental techniques and traditional spiritual themes.” Fujimura’s work will also be exhibited in the Martin Museum from October 19 to November 13 as well.

In addition to these classes and events, the Mayborn established a program for the Waco public to accompany the display. “The community lecture series is something we wanted to do; we wanted to have introductory lectures for the public that might not be as familiar with the artists,” Nall explained. Hibbs said this contribution to the community was important because of the relatively small art culture in Waco. Hibbs, Dr. David L. Jeffrey, and Karen Pope are lecturing on the artistic vision, physical creation, and religious themes of Rouault and Chagall in late October and early November.

Smith and Nall agree that while housing these two important series began as a happy accident, the exhibit has affected the Mayborn. “It does give the museum a different dimension,” Smith said. “The community primarily knows us as a children’s museum, but you’re not going to find many kids in this exhibition.”

For Hibbs, “Sacred Texts, Holy Images” and all the associated projects, classes, and conferences are important opportunities for students and the community. “I think people will have what Mark Foster wanted: a direct experience of magnificent art,” Hibbs said. “And especially the students will see that great artists really are synthesizing and integrating all of the disciplines.”

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