WCMA's Summer School

What do you imagine when you hear the word “archives”? Could it include seeds? Or scents? Or colors? Or perhaps artists’ sketchbooks? If not, it should, and much more, according to the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), which is hosting its annual Summer School. This year’s theme, “The Library & The Archive,” is designed to help participants have fun expanding their idea of what constitutes a library or an archive.

On a recent evening in July, oral historian and lecturer in history Annie Valk presented the second mini course of the summer. She discussed gaps in representation and interpretation in oral histories before touring the exhibition, Lex and Love: Meleko Mokgosi. Mokgosi, an artist from Botswana, is also interested in how power dynamics influence interpretation and representation.

“I’ve often thought that artists are better story tellers than historians,” says Valk. “They can call attention to issues in ways that can provoke and stimulate audiences more effectively than historians, who are trained to stick more closely to evidence.”

Other mini courses in WCMA’s Summer School include “Robert Rauschenberg: Appropriating the Archive,” “Object Not Found: A Reading,” and “Space As Archive.” Each hour-long session is followed by refreshments and the chance to discuss the art and the archive with presenters and fellow Summer School attendees.

Now in its third year, “summer school has a social, quirky, spirit,” says Nina Pelaez, assistant curator of public programs. “For example, the extracurricular moments taking place throughout the summer play on the theme of the library and the archives in interactive and unconventional ways.” Case in point is “The Sketchbook Project,” a library that allows participants to borrow from a collection of artist sketchbooks, just as they would a library book.

Pelaez points out that several mini courses approach the objects in the museum from a new angle. The custodian of the Forbes Pigment Library at Harvard University will speak about the history and science of pigments before touring some of the paintings on the walls, and perfumers from Source Adage NYC will discuss how they developed scents inspired by four objects in the WCMA collection. “Looking at a work of art and experiencing a scent created specifically for it sparks new kinds of interactions and interpretations,” says Pelaez.

“The theme of the archive is pervasive in our current exhibitions,” she adds. “At a time when we at the museum are already thinking so much about how art collections are themselves archives, the theme for Summer School came easily.”

Mini courses take place on Thursday evenings all summer long, and some of the extracurricular moments are ongoing. Visit the museum’s website to see the full schedule.

—By Julia Munemo