Rogers Center exhibiting coverlet museum

by Zach Noble, Staff Writer

The Foster and Muriel McCarl Coverlet gallery fills a section of the ground floor of the Rogers Center.  The current exhibition, curated by Dr. Karen Kehoe, is entitled “Consider the Lilies: Floral Imagery in the Coverlets of the McCarl Collection,” and the exhibit will be displayed until January 5, 2011.

The McCarl Coverlets first came to Saint Vincent in 2008, though the process of obtaining the collection began much earlier during the college presidency of James Will. The McCarl family donated their collection of almost four hundred quilts, as well as an endowment of $1 million dollars, to SVC with the agreement that the coverlets were to be permanently housed on campus. The gallery was opened to the public in October 2008 and has displayed various, changing selections from the collection since then.

The curator of the McCarl Coverlet gallery is Lauren Lamendola, a 2008 graduate of SVC. Lamendola completed her master’s degree in Archival, Museum and Editing Studies at Dusquesne University and began working full time as curator in May 2010. Lamendola spoke enthusiastically about the potential offerings of the gallery, saying, “We want to make this a learning laboratory so a student can get firsthand experience of what it takes to come up with an exhibit idea, write labels, install an exhibit, and market the exhibit. We’re trying to have at least one faculty or student-produced exhibit a year.”

The current exhibit, under the direction of Dr. Kehoe, is a prime example of faculty involvement with the gallery, and in the spring, the gallery will feature an exhibit created by student Regina Brinza.

“Primarily, history students focus on the exhibits,” said Lamendola, “while others, graphic design majors, their emphasis would be on public relations, any media that needs to be produced, and the education majors focus on creating programming.  Everyone has their own little focus area.”

Dr. Kehoe, Assistant Professor of History, is proud of her first foray into the coverlet gallery, though she acknowledged that the exhibit is not particularly hard-hitting.

“For my very first show I wanted to try something that wasn’t strictly historical research,” said Kehoe, “but was research in symbolism, imagery, that sort of thing, and I love gardening.  Flowers were just natural for me, and people in the 19th century loved floral imagery.”  Dr. Kehoe specializes in public history, and she uses the coverlet gallery as a teaching supplement in some of her courses.

“I think that there are a growing number of faculty members on campus who are incorporating the gallery into their curriculum,” said Kehoe.  There was a healthy turnout at the exhibit’s opening, according to Kehoe, who reported that there were “over one hundred people present” at the opening.

The opening of “Consider the Lilies,” however, was accompanied by uncharacteristically high attendance levels.  According to Casey Wertz, a junior History major who began as a work-study assistant in the gallery this semester, the gallery is usually empty.

“Some days we won’t have any visitors at all,” said Wertz.  Nevertheless, Wertz claimed that most of those who do visit enjoy the gallery. “We get really great feedback from most people,” said Wertz.

Lauren Lamendola believes the coverlet gallery is a valuable addition to the SVC community.  The agreement with the McCarl family stipulates that there cannot be a period of more than two years in which the coverlets are not displayed.  “We can, if we wanted, put up an outside exhibit, but the coverlets are our primary focus,” said Lamendola.  When asked whether she thought the coverlet gallery was the best use of Rogers Center space, Lamendola responded, “[Outside demand for the space] isn’t really an issue.  As far as people approaching us and wanting to exhibit things, that doesn’t really happen.”

Funding, however, may present an issue.  “The initial endowment [of $1 million] covers the upkeep and care of the collection,” said Lamendola, “but we’re also looking for different ways to bring in more revenue with workshops and grant funding.”  One of the ways the gallery is fundraising is by sponsoring a Victorian Halloween event on October 27.  Lamendola declined further comment on the gallery’s financial standing.

On the whole, the McCarl Coverlet Gallery offers a unique, if somewhat sleepy, cultural experience on the Saint Vincent campus. Dr. Kehoe spoke of the collection’s value, saying, “While a lot of people just see these as old blankets, they are an incredible wealth of information about how people lived and what they valued.”

Kehoe noted that the collection is remarkably extensive.  “There are very few places in the United States where you can come and see this kind of a collection,” said Kehoe.  “It’s a larger collection than that of Colonial Williamsburg. It’s larger than almost any institution’s collection in the country.”

Lamendola also mentioned the collection’s value, and she spoke to the current lack of student involvement, saying, “We’re welcome to any ideas that would make [the gallery] more student-friendly.

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