Two years ago, Lori Tharps ’94 was at a crossroads, content in her life as a tenured professor but longing for something new. After attending her 25th Reunion, and hearing similar stories from classmates, she took a leap of faith, upending her comfortable life in pursuit of her true passion. These days, she couldn’t be happier.
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Connoisseurship for Life
Janice Carlson Oresman ’55 has supported the Smith College Museum of Art in significant ways since graduating as an art history major and going on to a career as an art curator for corporations. Along the way she earned a master’s degree at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. She has served and chaired the museum’s Visiting Committee. A gallery in Hillyer Hall for the work of visiting artists was named in her honor in 2003.
Her favorite piece in the museum’s collection is George Bellows’ 1907 oil painting Pennsylvania Excavation (gift of Mary Gordon Roberts ’60), depicting the construction of Penn Station in New York City.
Here Oresman describes the influence of the college’s museum on her life, and also her own strategy for visiting a new museum.
The museum became increasingly important to me in my junior and senior years as I immersed myself in our famous art history courses and spent hours studying the original works of art that we are lucky to have in our own museum. Every day at lunchtime, my job was to sit at the reception desk and welcome visitors—a job for which I earned 50 cents an hour as a scholarship student.
While in graduate school, I began giving art tours in Manhattan. In addition to seeing great art, I was making excellent connections and had the good fortune of being recommended for a job building an art collection for a large corporation. For nearly 50 years I have created collections for many prominent businesses. At the same time, I was curating exhibits, writing catalogs and getting to know more about contemporary art and artists. I also began building a collection of my own of prints and works on paper, many of which are promised gifts to SCMA.
I am beholden to our museum for the amazing education in the arts it provided to me. I thank Smith for so many things in my life—in this context, for giving students a chance to study from original works and develop a connoisseurship that stays with them throughout their lives.
When I visit a museum, silence and enough personal space in which to feel alone with my thoughts as I contemplate a work of art are important to me. I usually head for a temporary exhibition lest I miss it. Once there, I take an initial brisk walk through to get an overall impression. Then I walk through again at a slower pace, paying the most attention to the works that particularly engage me. Finally, I go home and read the catalog. I have precious little room on my bookshelves at this point, but the catalogs are usually so beautifully produced that I cannot resist bringing home a souvenir that I can revisit anytime at my leisure.
This story appears in the Winter 2020-21 issue of the Smith Alumnae Quarterly.