Lee Glazer wrestled with the decision to leave her home in Washington, D.C., and the security of a curatorial job with the Smithsonian Institution to move to Waterville and become the founding director of the Lunder Institute for American Art at Colby.
Glazer grew up in Washington, raised her family there, and made her mark as a Whistler specialist and curator of American art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Taking the Lunder Institute job—launching a research center for American art at an undergraduate liberal arts college in northern New England—is in some ways a bold move. Typically these centers are nestled in big research universities with large populations of graduate students.
Ultimately, Glazer decided to trade her life in the nation’s capital for Mayflower Hill because she shares President David A. Greene’s vision for the institute and his commitment to the arts. “It’s so encouraging and unusual that David Greene is putting the arts and creative endeavors at the heart of his vision for Colby,” Glazer said. “This is a time in history when people are questioning the value of a liberal arts education and thinking in material terms about the role of higher education. To me, his investment in the arts is not to be overlooked.”
As they discussed the institute, Greene told Glazer to think of it as a mash-up between the experimental mid-century North Carolina arts school Black Mountain College and the Aspen Institute, a contemporary humanities-driven think tank, where new ideas are nurtured by cutting-edge scholarship.
Established with a gift by Paula and Peter Lunder ’56, the institute is designed for scholarship, creativity, dialogue, and mentorship among the College’s many communities. Glazer will set the Lunder Institute’s scholarly and creative direction, working with artists, faculty, and students, as well as the curatorial and educational teams of the Colby College Museum of Art. She also will collaborate with the institute’s first director of artist initiatives, Theaster Gates, recently appointed to a three-year term. “I love Theaster’s work, and I am excited to see what this relationship is going to look like.”
“This is a time in history when people are questioning the value of a liberal arts education and thinking in material terms about the role of higher education. To me, [David Greene’s] investment in the arts is not to be overlooked.” —Lee Glazer, founding director,
Lunder Institute for American Art
The institute will actively participate in Colby’s ongoing revitalization of Waterville, an aspect of the job that particularly excites Glazer. “We see the institute as one of the many institutions driving the creative revitalization of Waterville and the region generally, and doing so in a way that does not disrespect the history of the community and the people who live there and have roots in the community,” she said.
Glazer’s background includes some history in Maine. For about 15 years, she and her family have spent a summer week or two at a cabin on Attean Pond near Jackman. They usually stay at a hotel in Waterville the night before heading into camp, and their trips have often included stops at Colby. “We have this abiding affection for the great beauty of the state of Maine,” she said.
Glazer has worked at Freer|Sackler 11 years and curated almost 20 exhibitions. A Whistler scholar, she was drawn to the Lunder position in part by the Colby museum’s deep Whistler collection. The Lunder Collection of James McNeill Whistler includes more than 300 etchings and lithographs, as well as oils, watercolors, and pastels and more than 150 books, journals, and photographs.
Glazer is eager to explore exhibitions that compare changes in Whistler’s London to changes in Waterville today—and perhaps the changes experienced on the south side of Chicago, where Gates makes community-based work.
“Whistler witnessed an incredible transformation and gentrification of certain parts of London in the late 19th century,” she said. “Maybe we can bring in scholars to research the changes in Victorian London and draw parallels to the south side of Chicago and the changes happening in Waterville today. As I started thinking about those possibilities, that’s what catalyzed for me, in concrete terms, the kinds of things the institute can do and the ways in which we can bridge the gaps of time and place.”