Almost anywhere you look on campus, you can find art from the Luther College Fine Art Collection (FAC). Lithographs, paintings, and photographs from the vast collection hang on the walls of Preus Library, the Union, and Olin. Clay, stone, and metal sculptures sit outside the CFL and inside the CFA, an often unacknowledged backdrop to Luther students’ daily experiences.
The Luther Fine Art collection contains over 100,000 works ranging from local and alumni artists, to Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso. The collection includes art from 500 B.C.E. to the present, but tends to focus on art and artists of the 20th century. While the collection has an interest in regional artists and subjects of the upper Midwest, it also houses a wide diversity of works from artists all over the world.
Even though the collection and its curators enhance spaces all around campus, the FAC is a largely unknown entity within campus life. Associate Professor of Art History Kate Elliott is the curator of the FAC, and is leading the behind-the-scenes work to bring the immense collection to the public.
“Something that students find interesting is that we don’t have a museum,” Elliott said. “Some of our artwork is super valuable, but we are a public, open access collection […] and we put them in meeting rooms. So when we do that, we always run the risk that somebody accidentally backs into a painting with a backpack or otherwise damages the work. That’s sort of the risk we take, but we think that it’s important to get art out of the basement and into the world so you all can see and enjoy it. Art doesn’t do anybody any good if it’s in the dark all the time.”
As a result of being an open collection around campus, the FAC brings all students a little closer to art, whether or not they are involved in it. It gives students a chance to interact with art in spaces beyond the CFA or other art buildings. Catherine Vitt (‘22) is a student assistant for the FAC, and believes it benefits all students to be exposed to the impressive works it holds.
“Some people aren’t very interested in art, and that’s totally their prerogative,” Vitt said. “[Art] has its own agency as a thing, and you can choose to engage with it or not, and then the space isn’t dead. It enlivens the space, and it’s really cool that different offices can choose what art they want and how they want their space to be, and that makes each place on campus a little more dynamic.”
The benefits of the collection being spread out around campus makes seeing art as simple as looking up at the nearest wall. By diversifying the visual components of campus, the FAC enlivens the campus and gives a fresh aesthetic to what are otherwise sterile spaces.
When asked about standouts amongst the collection, student workers reiterated the sheer number of works that the FAC houses. Ashley Schultz (’22) is another student worker for the FAC, and had a difficult time choosing a favorite among the thousands of artworks.
“I haven’t seen all of them because there are so many,” Schultz said. “I do have a certain affection for a pot that we call the llama pot, I think that’s really cute. We have a piece in the CFA right now hanging on the second floor, it’s an abstracted cathedral, I think it’s gorgeous.”
For students wondering where to begin with the collection, a good place to start is to pay attention to the artwork on the walls of classrooms and hallways they visit every day. For those wanting to learn more about the FAC, or to research a particular piece of art, go to https://fac.luther.edu/search/.