Taking Love of Art Seriously at Smith College

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I first met Margi Caplan and Aprile Gallant when I interviewed an exhibitor at the Smith College Museum of Art in February.

Margi is the membership and marketing director at the museum while Aprile is the curator of prints, drawings and photographs. Two pretty cool gigs at a gem of a museum right in our western Mass backyard.

Located on Route 9 next to St. John’s Episcopal Church on the campus of Smith College in Northampton, Mass., the museum offers four floors of exhibition galleries where permanent collections and changing installations are on display. Art is everywhere—even in the restrooms—which are designed by artists! There are also a dozen unique gallery benches designed and built by New England artists.

The day I went to the museum I interviewed Anne Whiston Spirn, a renowned photographer and landscape architect, for a feature story for The Republican. Margi and Aprile displayed an enthusiasm in talking about the exhibit and the museum that I imagine they do for all of the events and activities the museum puts on. Aprile has been curator for 12 years, while Margi has worked there 15 years.

Margi’s job is to drum up interest in and promote all things museum-related. While there are many venues in the Pioneer Valley for artists and the like to display their talents, Smith makes it a point to bring in diverse works to expose not only students on campus but the general public to a wide variety of art forms.

For the Anne Whiston Spirn photo exhibit, Aprile worked with the artist for the past three years in coming up with the look, which showcases 46 landscape photographs from her 35 years as a researcher. Called “The Eye is a Door: Landscape Photographs by Anne Whiston Spirn,” it features photographs from locations as close as Nahant in eastern Mass to Denmark, Sweden and Iceland.

The artist, a professor of landscape architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, wants viewers to better understand our man-made and natural environments and to think visually. Aprile and Anne collaborated to set up the exhibit to encourage viewers to spend more time observing the images than they might normally at some other gallery exhibit. Paired photos that at first glance don’t seem to have any connection to each other actually do if the observer takes the time to ask questions about them. Margi notes: “The artist describes these pairings as ‘haiku.’

“This exhibition is very much a collaboration. Anne had a lot of input into the selection of images as well as the layout because in certain instances she put these pairs together because they really help highlight certain questions people might have about them,” Aprile said. “She has all of this information in her head, and it was great for us to work together.”

I highly recommend that you check out Anne Whiston Spirn’s exhibit, which is on display from now until Aug. 31. And while you’re there, learn more about a museum that takes its love of art seriously.

To learn more about Anne Whiston Spirn, visit http://www.annewhistonspirn.com/. To learn more about Smith College, visit http://www.smith.edu/.

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