Art, Nature, and AlumsViewing Chihuly at Kew Gardens, London

The fusion of art and nature was the theme of a daylong event on June 29 at Kew Gardens in London, hosted by Vassar’s Office of Regional and International Programs and attended by more than 90 alumnae/i. The gathering was organized in conjunction with the exhibition, Chihuly at Kew: Reflections on Nature, and featured a talk by Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83, President and CEO of Chihuly Studio, which showcases the work of her husband, renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The exhibition at Kew Gardens includes 32 artworks in 13 locations, including one 30-foot piece that contains more than 1,500 pieces of glass.

“The exhibit opened in April, and I was delighted when I was asked to help bring this Vassar group together,” Leslie Chihuly said. “It combined two of my passions, Vassar and art.”

Other speakers at the event included Richard Barley, Director of Horticulture, Learning and Operations at Kew Gardens; Karen Van Lengen ’73, Professor of Architecture at the University of Virginia, who delivered a talk on the development of Vassar’s landscape; Vassar Professor of Art Emerita Susan Donahue Kuretsky ’63, who spoke about the history of still-life paintings; and Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley, who described the college’s current and future priorities and projects.

Van Lengen’s talk about Vassar’s campus, “Pedagogy and Place: The Legacy of the Landscape at Vassar College,” was based on her chapter in a recently published book on landscape architecture for Dumbarton Oaks. “I wrote about the symbiotic relationship between the development of Vassar’s landscape, which had been the site of a racetrack, and the simultaneous building of the curriculum,” she said.

Van Lengen called the Chihuly exhibition at Kew Gardens “truly impressive. As an architect, I could appreciate how all these pieces made of glass were able to remain intact structurally in the wind. And placing this installation in a natural setting allowed us to look at both in a new way.”

Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83, President and CEO of Chihuly Studio, with President Bradley at Kew Gardens

Kuretsky’s talk, “Contained Gardens: The Glorious Dutch Flower Piece… and Where it Went,” traced the evolution and varied meanings of the flower still life from its inception in the early 17th century by Dutch artists who created precise portraits of rare flowers during a period of intense scientific investigation. Later, she said, painters from Manet and van Gogh to Matisse and O'Keeffe used this traditional subject to display new ways of using paint itself as an expressive medium.

“The revival of the traditional flower piece among today's conceptual artists, using modern photographic and digital technologies, has produced images of beauty, but also startling visual commentaries on the evanescence of experience itself in today's world,” she said.

Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83, Tamar Smith Pichette ’86, Beth Burnham ’77, P’10, Kathy Zillweger Putnam ’75, and Karen Van Lengen ’73 at Kew Gardens

The event at Kew Gardens was one of several being hosted this year by the college through The Vassar Classroom Revisited program. 

On July 15 in Beijing, the college will host “A Conversation with President Bradley” at the Shangri-La China World Summit Wing hotel. More than 100 alumnae/i, current students and their parents, students admitted to the class of 2023 (accompanied by their parents), and high school representatives are expected to attend. In addition, some of the high school students participating in the Vassar Summer Institute in Beijing are expected to be present.

On November 9 in Athens, The Vassar Classroom Revisited will present Rachel Kitzinger, Professor Emerita of Greek and Roman Studies.  

John Mihaly ’74, Associate Vice President for Regional and International Programs, coordinates Vassar’s international events. “The office creates and implements a variety of substantive programs during the year—throughout the United States and abroad—designed to sustain the college's connection with alumnae/i and parents,” Mihaly said.