Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature / People

Curator Jacobs is digging, discovering plenty of art gems on campus

retro chairs

Dan Jacobs borrowed these retro chairs for an art exhibit and now they're at home in Penrose Library. PHOTO BY: Chris Tomeo.

For DU art curator Dan Jacobs, working with DU’s extensive art collection is a bit like rummaging through Grandma’s attic. He’s discovered thousands of unique pieces tucked away throughout campus, from English engravings to an uncast sculpture relief. 

Jacobs, director of the Myhren Gallery is working to catalogue, preserve and coordinate the display of art works scattered — and sometimes forgotten — across campus. 

“These are unique resources,” Jacobs says of the donated art. “My mission is to collect, re-house and preserve these works so that they will be available for everyone to enjoy.” 

Jacobs initially worked with cataloging specialist Diane Kotowski to inventory, photograph and safely store more than 1,000 pieces in the School of Art and Art History’s collection. 

“Many of the pieces were badly framed or matted with acidic paper, which would eventually destroy them,” Jacobs says. 

He removed the pieces from dangerous matting and is in the process of re-matting them into standard sizes so they can be easily handled and displayed. 

One piece, an Andy Warhol silkscreen poster for the 1967 Lincoln Center Film Festival, will be used in winter-quarter Collections Lab events, which allow attendees to experience fine art prints from the DU collection in an intimate, hands-on setting facilitated by art scholars, print collectors and practicing artists. 

Jacobs coordinated the cleaning and restoration of two 19th century English landscape engravings from the chancellor’s office. The 1810 hand-colored etchings of Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, England, are by William Frederick Wells, one of the first generation of watercolor artists. Wells’ art was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London from 1795 to 1813. 

“The engravings had been hanging on the wall of the chancellor’s office for 50 or 60 years,” Jacobs says. “We sent them out to a private conservator who washed them to remove the decades of dirt. 

“The process costs more than the prints are worth, but we must consider the artistic value,” Jacobs adds. “These prints are irreplaceable, and we can use them in classes to teach about printmaking.” 

Jacobs also recently helped administrators at the Women’s College select and display works donated by Colorado Women’s College professor Helen Davis. 

Currently, Jacobs is working with Newman Center Executive Director Stephen Seifert to frame a 15th century Italian manuscript and is seeking funding for completion of two other projects for the Newman Center — bronze casting of a plaster relief of Trio and Tone Shapes, a 1939 work by former adjunct professor Arnold Ronnebeck, and the installation of a pedestal and lighting for Harlequin, a sculpture by alumna Marion Buchan. 

Jacobs’ work is financed by project-specific grants and gifts, and a small amount of funding from the University. He would not put a value on the collection. 

“[Jacobs] has wonderful ideas about making the collections and the gallery better serve the entire DU community,” says Annette Stott, director of the School of Art and Art History. “He has been making great progress with the organization, care and documentation of the collection, as well as connecting with other departments and programs to initiate joint endeavors.” 

“My goal is not to control the collection or decorate the campus,” Jacobs says, “but to support and serve as a resource for organizations around campus as they care for and display works.”  

Comfort, make way for cool

Many DU students and alumni will remember the fabulously retro chairs in Penrose Library.

Students in Dan Jacobs’ fall-quarter Marsico Curatorial Practicum course borrowed two of the chairs for the recent “Negotiating Reality” exhibit at the Myhren Gallery. The students spent hours cleaning the chairs and ridding them of 40 years of grime.

Jacobs was interested in learning more about the chairs and turned to Westwordart critic Michael Paglia, an expert on modern design. Paglia learned that the chairs, called “pastil” chairs and nicknamed “gyro” chairs, were produced in 1967–68 by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio. The chairs were returned to production in 1990. New pastil chairs sell for $629–$1,200. 

Now, University Archivist Steve Fisher has given DU’s vintage chairs a more prominent home on the library’s main fl oor near the exhibit cases. 

“We actually knew they were designer furniture but had not given much thought to bringing them out of hiding until the exhibit in the gallery came about,” Fisher says. “It gave us a good excuse to think about putting them back in a more visible place.” 

This article originally appeared in The Source, February 2007.

Comments are closed.