MURFREESBORO — The simplicity and elegance of the Baldwin Photographic Gallery’s new home at MTSU are impressing students, alumni and university supporters as well as the arts community.
Reopening Monday in a bright, airy space on the second-floor atrium of the Bragg Mass Communication Building on campus, the Baldwin Gallery’s inaugural exhibit by photographic artists Jerry Uelsmann and Maggie Taylor drew appreciative crowds. A VIP preview and reception on Sunday had similar responses.
“I like that this is a very purposeful and special space. I’m excited to see the attention paid to it,” said Angela Purinton, a 1999 MTSU photography grad who, with her husband, Steve, has helped promote the gallery on a volunteer basis. They set up the Baldwin Gallery’s first Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/BaldwinPhotoGallery, which is now handled by the College of Mass Communication.
MTSU Professor Tom Jimison, gallery curator, taught the couple’s photo classes during their college years, and the Purintons still make a special effort to support MTSU photography exhibits, lectures and other events.
“We feel that as alumni, it’s important for us to connect with the program and to keep the artists like Jerry and Maggie coming to MTSU,” Angela Purinton said. “People coming to MTSU to visit can see that we have a full, rich campus with things for everyone to appreciate.”
The Uelsmann/Taylor exhibit, which features 25 prints from each of the artists and will be on display through March 9, is kicking off the Baldwin Gallery’s 50th year. In 1974, Uelsmann was one of the first major exhibitors in the Baldwin Gallery; he and Taylor also spoke to a receptive crowd Monday in MTSU’s Learning Resources Center, calling the university's photography program "one of the finest in the nation."
“This exhibit is just incredible,” said senior Rebecca Poole, a photography major at MTSU, after touring the gallery with her friend Tressa Spingler, a junior social work major.
“The quality of this exhibit is amazing. We studied Maggie’s work in class, and it’s so great to see this work in person and hear their lectures. What an opportunity!”
Professor Harold Baldwin started the photography program at MTSU in 1959 and established the photo gallery five years later to help expose students, as well as the surrounding community, to the work of leading photographers from around the world.
In the process, the professor began to build a permanent collection from gallery exhibits by artists such as Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Minor White, as well as Uelsmann. Jimison has curated the gallery since 1991.
The MTSU Photographic Gallery, which was renamed to honor Baldwin in 1996, was located in a hallway of the Learning Resources Center until building renovations displaced it. Now a professor emeritus of mass communication, Baldwin donated $100,000 in 2012 to find and renovate a new location on campus.
MTSU turned the former student newspaper office in the Bragg building into a 1,300-square-foot photographic gallery, featuring 200 feet of pristine wall display space and museum-quality lighting, to showcase the permanent Baldwin collection as well as traveling exhibits and student work.
Watch a video from the grand opening, featuring comments from Baldwin, at http://youtu.be/C6ADFwuBE2g.
“I just love the way you can stand downstairs and look up and see the gallery shining. It sparkles,” said Billy Pittard, head of MTSU’s Department of Electronic Media Communication in the College of Mass Communication.
“We have all these labs and classrooms in this building for our students to work in, but nothing has been dedicated simply to inspiration until now. It’s a wonderful space.”
"This is a spectacular renovation that allows us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this valuable, treasured and nationally renowned gallery," MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee added during a brief ribbon-cutting Monday night for the gallery.
"As an amateur photographer myself, I am thrilled to be here and take part in this historic occasion for our university and the Middle Tennessee community."
The Bragg building also houses the university’s Center for Popular Music, which promotes research, scholarship and programs in American music from the early 18th century to the present day, and the Center for Innovation in Media, which combines all student media — print, online, TV, radio and record label — under one roof.
Uelsmann and Taylor exhibit their photos all over the world, including recent shows in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Uelsmann’s specialty is photomontage, a technique he pioneered that uses traditional darkroom tools to juxtapose multiple photographic exposures into surreal and thought-provoking works of art.
Taylor uses her photographic background with digital tools — a flatbed scanner and computer software — to turn images into fascinating collages.
“This exhibit is outstanding, and the Baldwin collection is a sleeping giant,” said alumnus Steve Purinton. “It’s almost as impressive as the O’Keeffe collection at Fisk, and people need to know about it.
“To be able to hear these artists speak, get a print of theirs or buy a book, to be inspired by the work they do — it’s all an amazingly valuable experience, not just for the students at MTSU but for the entire community.”