From the Archives: A Snite send-off
Last week, Notre Dame broke ground on the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art, an addition to the University’s art district campaign, which is due to be completed in the fall of 2023. With this exciting news came the somber revelation that the Snite Museum of Art, attached to the south side of O’Shaughnessy Hall, will be closing, as its exhibits will be eventually be relocated to the new museum, and their former home will be converted into classroom space. In the heart of campus, the beloved Snite has brought life and culture to the Notre Dame community. From educational exhibits to Artful Yoga, the museum has solidified itself in the hearts of many.
This week’s edition of From the Archives highlights the Snite Museum’s impressive collections and cultural influence. In the next two and a half years before its impending closure, we hope that you’ll take advantage of the Snite’s central location and experience the lively art pieces, which offer both a glimpse into the past worlds wherein they were created and insights into our present.
Snite commemorates five years of campus culture
Jan. 27, 1986 | Patrick F. Murphy | Researched by Chris Russo
The Snite Museum opened its doors on Nov. 7, 1980. Frederick B. Snite, a successful entrepreneur and the museum’s namesake, never got to see the fruits of his donation. But The Observer’s Patrick F. Murphy noted that after five years, the Snite was “one of the top college museums in existence.”
The museum initially operated with a small acquisition fund. Early contributions to the collection came from Snite himself, including 41 “Old Master” paintings. The term “Old Master” generally refers to the most recognized European artists working between the Renaissance and 1800. At the time, a “Madonna and Child” was on display in the atrium, dedicated to Snite’s son, who lived in an iron lung for 18 years.
Other notable works in the museum’s early collection included etchings by Rembrandt, Picasso, Remington and C.M. Russel. Artists-in-residence at the University were responsible for other contributions, including an extensive collection from Ivan Mestrovic.
The original staff was led by Museum Director Dean A. Porter and his staff of 12 full-time employees. In addition to curating the collection, Porter and his team coordinated activities for students and community members.
The Snite’s early duties continue to this day. For students, the museum offers curriculum-focused tours and flexible visiting hours. For the greater community, the Snite hosts various events, including films, concerts and lectures.
After only five years, the Snite had enjoyed attendance just short of Yale and Harvard, thought by some “to be the best college galleries in the country.” Considering the youth of the Snite, Murphy viewed the recognition to be especially promising.
The fifth anniversary called for special commemoration, and the Snite unveiled a donation of 70 Rembrandt etchings. Now, 40 years after the opening of the Snite, many of these pieces continue to commemorate the Snite family’s generosity and educate the student body.
Eight years after opening, Snite paints a bright future
Aug. 29, 1988 | Kathy Lenney | Researched by Evan McKenna
It was 1988, and the Snite was blossoming into a campus mainstay. But how and when did museum director Dean Porter truly know the Snite had succeeded? His answer was simple — in his mind, the museum had made it the moment he could afford to be picky with pieces.
“We are looking to be as good as we can,” Porter told Accent writer Kathy Lenney (’91), illustrating the museum’s newly-earned right to refinement. “We need great pieces to be good.”
But the Snite’s curators didn’t need to choose between quality and quantity — the museum boasted both a 17,000-object collection and, within that collection, prominent pieces from household names like Picasso and Rembrandt.
But, Porter acknowledged, the works on the walls meant nothing if no patrons were there to appreciate them. As the O’Shaughnessy Galleries went through renovation, Porter and his staff sought to draw students in to the museum’s remaining attractions.
“People don’t come to the museum every day,” Porter said. “When they do it will be a special trip for them. We don’t want students to feel intimidated by the Snite. Visiting the museum should be a relaxing experience.”
Entertaining offerings from the Snite included a “noon talks” lecture series on art history, a “director series” focusing on the specializations of museum directors across the country and weekly screenings of films — from “Citizen Kane” to “Psycho” — in the museum’s Annenberg Auditorium. Such programming aimed to make the Snite more accessible to students.
“No one should ever be bored at Notre Dame,” Porter said. “This place is rich in activity. Students should visit the museum and appreciate the exhibits. They will ask you some questions and just might answer some too.”
But even in the midst of large-scale renovations, the Snite still invested in new art pieces — one of which came in the form of “Vertical Motif #3,” a steel structure by David Hayes erected in the museum’s sculpture courtyard. The acquisition of the piece marked the beginning steps of Porter’s goal to adorn Notre Dame’s campus with sculptures.
Porter’s goal seems to have been achieved: Today, campus is rife with sculptures of all shapes and sizes, including in the newly-founded Charles B. Hayes Family Sculpture Park, which is part of the ongoing project to create an arts district at Notre Dame. And although the Snite has developed in even bigger proportions since 1988, a close look might reveal the museum’s surviving artifacts of the ’80s — “Vertical Motif #3” still stands tall in the sculpture courtyard.
2002 celebration of the Snite — undeniable prestige, but a lack of student appreciation
Nov. 4, 2002 | Emily Howald | Researched by Maggie Clark
As the Snite’s collection and repertoire grew to be one of the most impressive university museums in America, so did on-campus appreciation for the landmark. A 2002 feature in The Observer written by Emily Howald celebrated the Snite in all its glory and emphasized the small museum’s large accomplishments.
At first glance, the Snite, attached to the south side of O’Shaughnessy, can appear intimidating, with hardly any windows and daunting glass doors. However, the interior is filled with worldly beauty celebrating the wide world of art and culture.
Gina Costa, the University’s marketing and public relations specialist in 2002, recognized this dichotomy. She noted that “this place is much livelier on the inside than it is perceived to be from the outside. We are alive with tours, activities and students all the time.”
Howald began by emphasizing that the museum itself is an educational asset and therefore vital to Notre Dame as a whole.
“The museum offers numerous programs that are intended for the education and inspiration of students not only at Notre Dame, but also in the South Bend area as well,” Howald wrote.
Not only did the Snite enrich the Notre Dame community, but it also extended its influence beyond the borders of campus. Howald noted that community outreach programs along with field trips showed that the Snite is for all people to enjoy, not only Notre Dame students.
Costa further explained the prominence of the museum’s collection.
“We have the most important Pre-Columbian collection in the world, outside of Mexico City, and we recently acquired an important 18th century Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), which we are very proud of,” Costa said.
The Snite continues to be a cultural hub tucked away in our own little corner of the world, serving as a reminder that there is, and always has been, life before and after Notre Dame — beautiful life.
However, Howald also addressed an unfortunate, but significant fact: Despite all the museum had to offer, students hardly took advantage of its amenities. She corroborated this point with evidence, writing that “in a recent study given by the marketing department at Notre Dame, a survey found that only 18 percent of the people that frequent the museum are Notre Dame students.”
Perhaps students were simply more interested in embracing the Midwest and all its offerings than global enrichment. Or perhaps students simply forgot about this campus gem.
Appreciation of the Snite by patrons was undeniable, and Notre Dame boasted about its top-tier museum; however, this appreciation failed to trickle down to the student body. However, this is not to say Notre Dame students were uncultured or unworthy of such art. Costa believed that “the reality of the situation is that the students just do not have the time to visit the museum.”
Regardless of student opinion, it remains true that the Snite is there for anyone ready to embrace its glory. Though the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art will continue and expand on the Snite’s legacy at Notre Dame, the enriching Snite Museum at the heart of campus will be missed for its homey milieu and cultural impact.