Almost everywhere you look on campus you can find artwork from the Luther College Fine Art Collection (FAC). Lithographs, paintings and photographs from the vast collection hang on the walls of the Preus, Union and Olin libraries. Sculptures in clay, stone and metal can be found outside the CFL and inside the CFA, an often overlooked backdrop to the daily experiences of Luther’s students.
The Luther Fine Art collection contains over 100,000 works ranging from local and former artists to Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso. The collection includes works of art from 500 BCE to the present day, but tends to focus on art and artists from the 20e century. While the collection focuses on regional artists and subjects from the upper Midwest, it also houses a great diversity of work by artists from around the world.
Even if the collection and its curators enhance the spaces all around the campus, the FAC is a largely unknown entity in campus life. Associate Professor of Art History Kate Elliott is the Curator of FAC and is leading the behind-the-scenes work to present the huge collection to the public.
“What the students find interesting is that we don’t have a museum,” Elliott said. “Some of our artwork is very valuable, but we are an open access public collection. […] and we put them in meeting rooms. So when we do this we always run the risk of someone accidentally backing up in a painting with a backpack or damaging the work in some other way. It’s kind of the risk we take, but we think it’s important to bring art out of the basement and out into the world so that you can all see and enjoy it. Art does no one good if it is in the dark all the time.
By being an open collection around the campus, the FAC brings all art students a little closer, whether they are involved in it or not. 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 that it is beneficial for all students to be exposed to the impressive works that 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 whether to commit to it or not, and then the space is not dead. It livens up the space, and it’s really cool that different offices can choose the art they want and how they want their space to be, which makes every place on campus a little more vibrant.
The perks of the campus-wide collection make viewing the art as simple as looking at the nearest wall. By diversifying the visual components of the campus, the FAC enlivens the campus and gives a new aesthetic to otherwise sterile spaces.
Asked about the remarkable elements of the collection, the hardworking students reiterated the large number of works that the FAC houses. Ashley Schultz (’22) is another student worker for the FAC, and struggled to pick a favorite among the thousands of works of art.
“I haven’t seen them all because there are so many,” Schultz said. “I have a certain affection for a pot that we call the llama pot, I think it’s really cute. We have a room at the CFA right now hanging on the second floor, it’s an abstract cathedral, I think it’s beautiful.
For those students who are wondering where to start with the collection, a good place to start is to pay attention to the artwork on the walls of the classrooms and hallways they visit every day. For those wishing to learn more about the FAC, or to search for a specific piece of art, visit https://fac.luther.edu/search/.