History Graduate Students Curate New Exhibit for Villanova Art Gallery
VILLANOVA, Pa. – Graduate history students celebrated the culmination of their semester-long public history practicum project with the opening reception of a new exhibit, Dox Thrash: Painted, Not Printed, in the Villanova University Art Gallery on Friday, April 29.
Under the direction of Associate Professor Whitney Martinko, PhD, these students curated the exhibit, which presents a new view of Dox Thrash, a Black artist working in Philadelphia in the mid-20th century. Thrash is best known for prints made through the carborundum process that he invented. This exhibit features five of Thrash’s little-known paintings donated to the University by Benjamin Bernstein, a prominent Philadelphia art patron, collector and donor. Painted, Not Printed explores the history of Thrash’s paintings in conversation with works by other mid-20th-century artists such as Julius Bloch, Samuel Maitin and Paul Keene.
In addition to selecting artwork and writing gallery text, students also worked in small teams to design the exhibit, write and publish an online exhibit catalog, develop promotional material and visitor engagement initiatives.
“Developing the Dox Thrash exhibit gave students a chance to think about doing history in three dimensions,” Dr. Martinko says. “Gallery exhibitions require students to analyze spatial characteristics of the gallery as well as ideas about research as they select art for exhibition and write wall labels. These types of challenges prepare our students to be top-notch historians in a variety of public-facing settings and media.”
Work that combines intellectual and professional development is typical of public history courses in the department, notes Dr. Martinko. Past courses have produced a podcast series about the history of The Woodlands of Philadelphia and a series of online articles for Hidden City Philadelphia.
“I knew that putting together an exhibit would be hard work, but I was amazed at the amount of decision-making that goes into every detail of the exhibit—from the selection of works on display, to design, to interpretation and storytelling, even picking the title!” says graduate history student Hannah Bourne ’22 MA. “Learning to write exhibit labels was also a challenge. There’s a temptation to think of labels as something describing the item on display, but really, the label is meant to connect the object to a much bigger idea or meaning that draws the exhibit together. It’s about historical interpretation, not just description, which is what made this art exhibition a great venue for us to exercise our skills as historians.”
At the well-attended opening reception, Dr. Martinko and Art Gallery Director Jennie Castillo offered short remarks before representatives of The Dox Thrash House Project spoke about Thrash’s life, his art and the goals of their mission. Following the gallery talk, patrons enjoyed refreshments, explored the exhibit, and conversed with the graduate student curators.
“I've loved having the opportunity to work with the history graduate students to draw attention to a part of Dox Thrash's oeuvre that isn't really known,” says Castillo. “It's exciting to see the inspiration and the feeling of discovery as they dig into the Villanova University's art collection.”
The Dox Thrash exhibit is the first collaboration between graduate students and the gallery under Castillo’s direction.
“There is something special about the new era of Jennie Castillo's directorship,” says graduate history student Sophia Lockwood ’19 CLAS, ’22 MA, “and I believe that our work in gallery is cultivating a new era where students feel that this space can be theirs to display, tell stories and simply take space that has always belonged to them.”
“The gallery opening made the whole project come together in an incredible way for everyone involved,” Bourne adds. “So many of the attendees had personal connections to the people and places we had been researching throughout the semester. Hearing their stories about the Sharswood neighborhood, the Dox Thrash house, and the artists’ lives and legacies brought everything to life and made all the hard work worthwhile. This has been by far one of the best and most rewarding experiences of my graduate career.”
The Art Gallery is located in the Villanova Connelly Center, and the exhibit is open to the public through May 14 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Learn more about the exhibit on the Villanova Art Gallery website.
Villanova graduate history student curators include: Alessandra Albertini, Hannah Bourne, Kaitlyn Connell, Victoria Durand, Anamartha Hinojosa, Isabella Kolic, Lena Lannutti, Sophia Lockwood, Colin McCrossan, Elizabeth Miner, Gabriel Morbeck and Sarah Snyder.
About the Villanova Art Gallery: Dox Thrash: Painted, not Printed, is a testament to the educational experiences and opportunities that Villanova University offers for their students. The art gallery also offers opportunities for students to work in art collections, install exhibits, work as art gallery research assistants and more. The art gallery, located in the Connelly Center, is open for all students to enjoy, even providing a quiet study space for students to do their work. In this way, the gallery serves as an inaugural venue for young artists and provides an exhibition space for students to gain valuable experience for their future career.
About Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Since its founding in 1842, Villanova University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has cultivated knowledge, understanding and intellectual courage for a purposeful life in a challenged and changing world. With 39 majors across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, it is the oldest and largest of Villanova’s colleges, serving more than 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students each year. The College is committed to a teacher-scholar model, offering outstanding undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and a rigorous core curriculum that prepares students to become critical thinkers, strong communicators and ethical leaders with a truly global perspective.