Art museum’s '40 at 40' celebration highlights unique pieces, donors and diversity

Upcoming Events and Exhibits

  • Faculty and staff reception: Feb. 21 4-5:30 p.m.
  • “Outside the Box”: A Student Response Exhibition runs through May 18.
  • “More Than An Object”: Engaging the Broader Context of African Art runs through June 8.

by Shavon Anderson, university news and communications
Art evokes emotion, both raw and thoughtful. In the same work that an artist finds peaceful expression, an audience can find grief and joy, activism and inspiration.
Walking through the Miami University Art Museum, the diverse collections and intimate stories are meant to evoke a range of reactions from visitors. Jason Shaiman, curator of exhibitions, still gets eager walking through Farmer Gallery and eying one of his favorite pieces among the museum’s massive collection.

Simply titled "Portrait of a Woman,” the painting by renowned artist Ferdinand Bol features a woman peering off into the distance as strokes of shadowy vignette frame her.

“This was donated to us in late 2017,” Shaiman said. “I was as giddy as a kid on his birthday.”

Ferdinand Bol Portrait of a Woman

Ferdinand Bol (Dutch, 1616-1680); Portrait of a Woman (detail), 17th century; oil on canvas (photo by Miami University Art Museum).

Bol’s work is one of 40 pieces showcased in the gallery as a celebration of the museum’s 40th anniversary. Staff had the daunting task of selecting the works from a collection of 17,000 before placing them for display in the “40 at 40” exhibit. From cultural centerpieces dating back to 4000 BCE to 1700s Persian scripts, the items highlight the depth of the museum’s collection.
“We each contributed recommendations on certain works we felt should be included, some of which haven’t been shown in many years or at all,” Shaiman said.

The exhibition is also an opportunity to showcase the generous contributions from donors and touch on work the museum has done in acquiring unique pieces. Donors are notified when their pieces are on display, and several are expected to visit through the exhibition.

“We want them to feel valued and that what they’re contributing to the museum isn’t just being stored,” Shaiman said, “that people are engaging with it for study and enjoyment.”

Aside from physical donations, the exhibition recognizes people who’ve made financial gifts, people who are paying members and those who've donated their time and knowledge to enhance the overall experience.

Connecting to classrooms and communities

letterpress student bends over prints on a table

A Miami letterpress student creates "40 at 40" marketing designs (photo via Miami University Art Museum).

On any given day, along with the general public, Miami students flow through the museum’s galleries and stare silently at its pieces while taking notes for review.

“Our main mission is not just displaying artwork, but to engage visitors with visual culture and be an integral part of the academics,” Shaiman said.

For “40 at 40,” the art museum teamed up with a Miami letterpress class where, as part of a final project, students helped create posters and logo designs to advertise the exhibition. Plus, students created a new set of postcards as gifts for museum VIPs and for sale at the museum shop.

Recently, an art history course received a grant to fund an acquisition project. Michael Hatch, assistant professor of art history, partnered with museum leadership to select prints from an Ohio gallery that would complement the museum’s collection. Each student selected one print and will research the piece over the semester. In the spring, they’ll develop a proposal for why the museum should acquire their selected work.

Inviting and accessible to the community, the museum exposes visitors to unique experiences and world views. Elementary school children have used the galleries as a classroom, and with its programming, the museum encourages meaningful, relevant arts-based discussions for diverse groups.

When asked what he wants visitors to take from the museum’s vast offerings: "Everything!" Shaiman said. "Except the pieces, of course."

“40 at 40” runs through June 8. The Miami University Art Museum is free and open to all.

To learn more about the Miami University Art Museum, visit their web site at You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.