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September 22, 2000
Volume 38, No. 3


Truth and beauty to go
Voices from the Prairie event celebrates Iowa's writers
Whad'Ya Know? New shows and a national star hit the UI's airwaves
Interdisciplinary Health Group encourages a meeting of the minds from both sides of the river
Old Capitol's new exhibit is music to visitors' ears

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Truth and beauty to go

Robert Sample pulls out a 1991 painting, Logos by Keith Westbrook, from the shelves of the thesis rental gallery. Photo by Rex Bavousett.

Not every University office has a view of the river, or of downtown Iowa City, or of a soothing grove of trees. Not every office has a view at all.

For those who spend the day looking at four blank walls and not much else, there’s hope.

The thesis gallery in the School of Art and Art History offers rental of original art for use in University buildings. For $20 a year, renewable annually, members of the University community can gaze at the ocean, stacks of Old El Paso bean cans, or scenes from the Bible with a contemporary twist.

The gallery has been run by Robert Sample since 1994. He is a virtual encyclopedia of information about the 6,000 cataloged pieces.

Looking for an aquatic scene? See Sample. A landscape? Sample will direct you to the appropriate section. Need a piece that will fit on a small wall? Sample again.

"There are a couple of kinds of people who come in," Sample says. "There are those who know exactly what they want and those who just want to see what catches their eye."

There is so much to look at that catching one’s eye is the easy part—deciding is tough. In a room in the basement of the School of Art and Art History, vertical stacks of paintings fill floor-to-ceiling shelves. Sections are arranged according to the paintings’ subject matter and size. While the east wall is filled with three tiers of shelves, the west wall has paintings so large they have to be delivered in a van.

This 1964 untitled oil painting by Richard Hlad currently brightens a conference room in the Old Public Library. Photo by Rex Bavousett.


The collection exists because a requirement of earning an M.F.A. degree in the School of Art and Art History is that students leave a piece of their artwork at Iowa. The thesis gallery collection includes both paintings and three-dimensional work. Three-dimensional items are stored at Oakdale. In addition to the shelves of paintings, others line the walls of the basement halls and auditorium. A few are in a south-facing hall upstairs. Sample rotates the displays regularly and tries to organize the hallway "exhibitions" around a theme.

The collection dates to 1924, but the earliest art available for rent is from 1939. One of Sample’s major tasks has been to move information about the piece, including the artist’s name, the title and year of the painting, and the name of the chairperson on the degree committee, from a card catalog system to a computer database. He also photographs each piece. Eventually Sample would like to be able to digitally photograph the art and make it accessible on a web site.

"Yale is the only other school I know of with a thesis collection," Sample says. "What we’ve got here is a really important collection of American art."

In addition to keeping track of the artwork, no easy task since the building and its contents have been subject to two floods and a fire, Sample replaces broken frames, helps visitors select art, and sends out renewal notices.

"We have some people who have had the same piece of art since the 1980s," Sample says. "They’d like to buy them, but they can’t, so they just renew them year after year."

At any one time, about 600 pieces of the collection are checked out.

"People come alone and in groups," Sample says of his University clients. "Most people are aware of what they like, but sometimes they surprise themselves. They’ll come in and say ‘I don’t want anything abstract,’ and then they’ll see an abstract they love."

Sample, a sculptor, finds his half-time position provides inspiration for his own work.

"I get a lot of ideas from all the art I see here," Sample says. "I really enjoy hanging art in the building, meeting artists, and meeting members of the University community."

Renting art is a matter of calling Sample and setting up an appointment. The thesis rental gallery phone number is (33)5-1763. In addition to the $20 annual fee, large pieces can be delivered for $17, the cost of renting a van. Sample hopes that new clients will take advantage of the gallery’s services.

"Support the arts," he says, "and free up space on the gallery’s shelves!"

Article by Linzee Kull McCray


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