Exhibit takes visitors back to ASU Art Museum's founding

August 5, 2015

The year is 1950, and tucked away among the stacks of books in Arizona State College’s Matthews Library hangs a small collection of American art.

There’s a painted still life of fruit and pottery cast against a crimson background. A moonlit, tree-filled shore glows with the simple, but profound, warmth of twilight. And a man sits in a harvested field while shucking corn in a scene courtesy of noted American landscape painter Winslow Homer. gallery wall "Founding" exhibit ASU Art Museum The "Found(ing) Story: The Oliver B. James Collection" exhibit goes back in time to tell the story of how the ASU Art Museum was founded 65 years ago. Download Full Image

These are among the first 16 paintings of what would eventually become the ASU Art Museum, which now holds a collection of more than 12,000 objects.

But 65 years ago – before Arizona State University was even a university – it all started with a small anonymous gift by a donor who wanted to provide students, faculty, schoolchildren and the general public with the opportunity to view original works of art.

That generous donor was Phoenix attorney Oliver B. James, and over the next five years he gave close to 150 works of primarily American art to the school.

The ASU Art Museum’s latest exhibition, “Found(ing) Story: The Oliver B. James Collection,” showcases its formative time and puts a spotlight on this humble origin story.

It begins with James, an avid art collector who wanted to represent the growing prominence of American art. He was passionate about his collection and worked closely with the head librarian and curator at Matthews Library on the placement of the pieces.

“We have delightful letters to the curator, Paula Kloster, and the head of the library, with suggestions on placing the works for powerful comparisons and to build the narrative of the history of American art,” said Heather Lineberry, associate director of the ASU Art Museum. “James’ passion for collecting, his own curiosity and study of art and artists and his excitement to be sharing it with the students and public comes through loud and clear.”

When the books in Matthews Library were moved to the new Hayden Library in 1965, James’ art collection remained and the building was renamed the Matthews Center. Eventually, the museum grew to 10,000 square feet, ­and in 1989 the collection moved to its current venue at Nelson Fine Arts Center. Select pieces remained on permanent display up until four years ago.

Now visitors to the museum have a chance to view much of James’ art again, but with a fresh perspective – as new research has emerged on the collection.  It joins a series of exhibitions the museum has presented over the past few years, which examine its collections and exhibition history.

“‘Found(ing) Story: The Oliver B. James Collection’ looks at the beginnings of the museum’s collecting and exhibition history and its early mission, which is essentially the same today – a meeting point for the exchange of new ideas, perspectives and experiences among artists, students and the public through our exhibitions, residencies, collections and programs,” Lineberry said.

Aside from those first 16 pieces, which are arranged in chronological order, the exhibition includes work from prominent American artists, such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper.

“Many of our visitors remember particular paintings from past visits, or from when they were a student at ASU, and they have deep personal attachments,” Lineberry said. “It’s like visiting an old friend with powerful memories and associations.”

And though most of the pieces, which date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, lend a more traditional feel to a museum that has become known for its contemporary art, Lineberry points out that when James first donated the art, many pieces – such as one of O’Keeffe’s first skull paintings – were contemporary for the time.

“The museum has always had a focus on the art of our own time. When James was collecting … many of these works, they were contemporary and radical in their style and subject matter,” Lineberry said. “Our historic collections provide context and the opportunity to build powerful narratives that are relevant today.”

“Found(ing) Story: The Oliver B. James Collection” is on view in the Art Musuem’s Americas Gallery through Nov. 14. Admission is free. For more information, visit asuartmuseum.asu.edu.

Lisa Robbins

editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


ASU Regents' Professor Castillo-Chavez has 2 big reasons to celebrate

August 6, 2015

How do mathematicians celebrate?

“Not the Latino way with mariachi bands or salsa,” Carlos Castillo-Chavez said from a noisy ballroom in Washington, D.C. “Here we have a few drinks.” portrait of man standing in front of chalkboard ASU's Carlos Castillo-Chavez is one of six lecturers at the Mathematical Association of America centennial celebration in Washington, D.C. Download Full Image

The ASU mathematician has plenty of reasons to celebrate. This month he will be awarded one of math’s highest honors on one continent while addressing a gathering of America’s oldest and largest math societies on another.

The first comes this week as he is one of six lecturers at the Mathematical Association of America centennial celebration in Washington, D.C.

Described as the professional home of thousands of mathematicians who share a passion for the subject, the association is the largest society that focuses on math accessible to undergrads. Members include university, college and high school teachers as well as students, scientists, statisticians and others from government, industry and business.

The association's members discuss things like changes in their fields. And Castillo-Chavez said the biggest changes of the last century of math education have come in the past decade and a half.

“The big changes over the last decade and a half has been probably what is called data mines,” he said.

The enormous amount of computer-generated data has exploded, enabling researchers to apply analytical mathematical models to subjects like the behavior of diseased populations, a specialty of Castillo-Chavez.

“How do we build models that respond to questions that are being developed about diseases like ebola?”

Next week he will travel to Beijing, China, to receive the most prestigious award from the world’s top applied mathematics organization, the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics’ Prize for Distinguished Service to the Profession, at the International Congress in Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Applied mathematics is the use of math to solve practical problems.

“I look at people who have received it before with tremendous contributions to the role of mathematics to research,” Castillo-Chavez said of the SIAM prize. “To be in that category has been exciting.”

At Arizona State University Castillo-Chavez is a Regents' Professor, elite tenured faculty who are regarded as particularly distinguished in their field of study, as well as a Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology and a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist.

He uses mathematical biology – representing, treating and modeling biological processes with math – to study how diseases evolve.

Some of the more than 200 publications he has co-authored include papers on SARS outbreaks in Hong Kong and Singapore; ebola in the Congo and Uganda; and mathematical modeling of how tuberculosis spreads.

Castillo-Chavez is the founding director of the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center and the graduate field in applied mathematics in the life and social sciences, or AMLSS, at ASU. Nineteen students have earned AMLSS doctorates, and 14 of those were earned by minority students.

Castillo-Chavez is well-known for mentoring minority and at-risk students in science, technology, engineering and math. Of his 33 doctoral students, 17 have been Latino and 12 women. Three years ago he was appointed director of STEM Programs for Underrepresented Minorities at ASU. He also runs a summer math program which brings students from all over the country to ASU.

His previous recognitions include two White House awards and an appointment by President Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science in 2010. That appointment runs through this year.

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU Now