Davis Museum Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary

The Davis Museum under construction in the early 90s.
Photo provided by Janet E Saad ’79
October 19, 2018

On October 21, the Davis Museum at Wellesley College celebrates the 25th anniversary of its opening with architectural tours for the campus community and the public. The four-story, 61,000-square-foot building designed by Spanish architect José Rafael Moneo features four floors of gallery spaces for installations of the permanent collections along with temporary exhibitions, as well as study rooms for students. A crisscrossing double stairwell guides visitors through the building, while distinctive saw-tooth skylights top the building and bring natural light down through the galleries. Expressing the Museum’s role as a “Cultural Center,” the 167-seat Collins Cinema and Café are adjacent.

One of the oldest and most acclaimed academic fine art museums in the United States, the Davis Museum is a vital force in the intellectual life of Wellesley College, creating an environment that encourages visual literacy, inspires new ideas, and fosters involvement with the arts both within the College and the in the larger community.

“Since the Davis opened its doors in 1993, the encyclopedic collections have grown from 5,000 to 13,000 objects with areas of strength in painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, and decorative objects, from antiquity to the present day,” said Lisa Fischman, Ruth Gordon Shapiro ’37 Director of the Davis Museum. “In addition, the collections have become accessible worldwide through the online site, the mobile app, and third-party repositories including Google Cultural Institute and Artsy. The major reinstallation of the permanent collections galleries in the fall of 1996 doubled the number of works on view. And, as ever, we continue to work on new ways to engage our local communities, as well as students, scholars, and art lovers around the world.”

The Davis Museum is the collection’s fourth home on campus. The Wellesley art collection, initiated by Henry Fowle Durant and Pauline Durant with the founding of the College in 1875, was originally displayed in College Hall, then the primary residential and classroom building. It was later housed in the Farnsworth Art Building, founded in 1889, and then in Paul Rudolph’s 1958 Jewett Arts Center, a masterpiece of midcentury modern architecture.

Plans for constructing the Davis were initiated in 1988 following a $5 million gift from trustee Kathryn Wasserman Davis ’28 and her husband, Shelby Cullom Davis. The Museum was Moneo’s first North American commission, which immediately distinguished it among its academic museum peers and among the art museums and cultural institutions of the Greater Boston area. The building also rearticulated and revitalized the longstanding commitment to the central role of the visual arts in undergraduate liberal arts education at Wellesley College.

Moneo, who in 1996 won the Pritzker Architecture Prize, commented after designing the Davis, “The artworks in the collection are like memories of those alumnae who lived here and who thought there could be no better place than Wellesley to which to leave the objects they loved so much. Therefore, I very much wanted the Museum to be understood as a treasury, a treasury that speaks about the lives of those people who received their education here.”

In honor of the 25th anniversary, the Davis Museum has created a downloadable mobile app, which includes a virtual tour of the building and historical background. For museumgoers closer to campus, drop-in tours will be open to the public on Saturday, October 27, at 2 pm beginning in the Davis Museum Lobby.

Photo: Planning for the building’s signature L-shaped layout, which connects the Davis and the Jewett Arts Center, began in 1989 and was fully realized by 1993.