The Drexel Collection Showcases Its ‘Practical & Cultural’ Uses

The Drexel Collection.

The Drexel Collection was founded for much more than its aesthetic appeal. Since it was started as the Drexel Museum in 1891, its 6,000 objects — including paintings, sculptures, drawings, clocks, watches and ceramics from around the world — have been used to provide students with additional hands-on learning and supplemental materials for classes, no matter the academic field.

“Any real knowledge of and feeling for art in its many aspects can only be acquired by direct contact with the various forms in which it is embodied,” wrote Drexel’s first president, James MacAlister, in 1897. “We can learn a good deal from reproductions and books, but the feeling for beauty and the refined enjoyment which works of art are capable of yielding are only possible in the truest sense by living in their presence and becoming familiar with them as we do with a fine poem or some lovely aspect of nature.”

Written 120 years ago, MacAlister’s words still hold true for The Drexel Collection today. This spring, The Drexel Collection will show exactly why with its newest exhibit, Practical & Cultural: The Drexel Collection as a Teaching Tool. The show, which runs from April 14 to June 19, will highlight some of the past projects and current projects completed by students using The Drexel Collection. The work and experiences of Drexel students that interned or completed a co-op with The Drexel Collection will also be displayed.

Lynn Clouser, center, director of The Drexel Collection, on a tour of The Drexel Collection to a class of English 101 students.

“I planned this exhibition as a continuation of The Drexel Collection’s 125th-year celebration, since it dates back to the University’s opening,” said Lynn Clouser, director of The Drexel Collection. “It not only showcases the range of art you can find in the collection but also how it can and has been used as a teaching tool, thus living up to one of the founding missions of the collection. It’s also wonderful to see that the collection is being used and isn’t just art on the walls.”

In recent years, Drexel students have used the collection in classes from departments as varied as English, art history and museum leadership. For example, graduate students in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design’s museum leadership program learned how to plan and design an exhibit through The Drexel Collection. English 101 students studying self-representation in the digital age learned about the evolution of the selfie by admiring examples of the original selfie: self-portraits, such as those painted by founder Anthony J. Drexel’s painter father, Francis Martin Drexel, and hung in the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery.

Now, the projects that students created will be displayed in the exhibit, along with their statements and recollections of how The Drexel Collection helped in their studies. But of course, that's not the only way Drexel students are getting involved with Practical and Cultural.

Kelly Bishop, a senior in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design who completed a co-op with The Drexel Collection, donned protective gear to work with taxidermy birds preserved with arsenic for a 2016 exhibit.

“An art history class is progressively curating one section of the exhibition,” said Clouser. “They will each be assigned an artifact and then over the course of the term, they will research more and more about that object and the labels will reflect what they learned. The first object labels in the exhibit are blank and will then be replaced with labels featuring the object’s description, maker, fabrication, provenance, etc.”

To see the work of current and past Drexel students, you can visit the exhibit in the Rincliffe Gallery on the third floor of Main Building at 3141 Chestnut St. from April 14 through June 17. The Rincliffe Gallery is open from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The Gallery is free and open to the public.

For more information, contact Lynn Clouser, director of The Drexel Collection, at 215.895.2414 or