AMHERST, Mass.-The Mead Art Museum at Amherst College has received a $35,473 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation to help defray the costs of producing a scholarly catalogue of the museum's collection of eighteen thangka-paintings of Buddhist deities mounted on hanging scrolls. This essential scholarly reference will include richly-illustrated essays by experts and individual catalogue entries for each work.
"We're honored and delighted to receive this generous grant from the Carpenter Foundation," said Elizabeth Barker, the Mead's director and chief curator. "The news couldn't have arrived at a better time, just a month before an exhibition featuring the thangka collection opens at the museum."
In 2010, a grant of $40,000 from the Carpenter Foundation (supplemented by a one-time donation of $60,000 from the Amherst College religion department) allowed the Mead to conserve the eighteen thangka in its collection. The Mead will present those recently-conserved works to the public in a two-part, year-long exhibition, Picturing Enlightenment: Thangka in the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College, scheduled to open on August 26, 2011. The forthcoming catalogue of the thangka collection, scheduled for publication in the summer of 2012, will extend the accessibility of these rare and important paintings-including several eighteenth-century examples reportedly from Lhasa, Tibet-by bringing them before a wide international audience.
The catalogue will include contributions from two Amherst College faculty members who have spearheaded the organization of various events related to the upcoming exhibition: Paola Zamperini, associate professor of Asian languages and civilizations, and Maria Heim, associate professor of religion and Buddhist studies and chair of the religion department, as well as of the Five College Buddhist Studies program. Other authors will include Marylin Rhie, Jesse Wells Post professor of art and professor of East Asian studies at Smith College and Camille Myers Breeze, director and head conservator of Museum Textile Services.
With the publication of an accessible scholarly catalogue ensured, and the thangka collection now safely conserved for display, these rare and important paintings will join the rest of the Mead's collection in serving as an active educational resource. Barker noted, "The forthcoming catalogue that the Carpenter Foundation has so generously agreed to fund promises to prove invaluable for scholars expert in other academic fields seeking to incorporate these compelling objects meaningfully into their teaching and research."
The Five Colleges (including Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, Smith, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst) hosts one of the liveliest Buddhist Studies undergraduate certificate programs in the United States, as well as a distinguished Tibetan Studies program. Additionally, the Pioneer Valley region includes about 150 Tibetan exiles, eager to acquaint their children with their own cultural roots and traditions.
"The impact that Amherst's thangka collection promises to make on their lives, and those of subsequent generations of our Tibetan neighbors, cannot be overestimated," said Barker. "Beyond these obvious academic and diasporic audiences, the thangka will also appeal to museum visitors interested in Chinese and Tibetan history and politics, Buddhism, global traditions of painting, and Asian art." She continued: "As the systematic destruction of Tibet's cultural heritage proceeds at an alarming pace, largely ignored and undocumented by most developed countries, the Mead Art Museum's ability to preserve and present even a small selection of thangka takes on a sense of urgency. Our efforts to conserve and catalogue these rare objects, and to present them before a lively community of scholars, students, art lovers, and culturally engaged citizens, represents a small but meaningful attempt to resist the erasure of one of the world's most unique cultural traditions."
A complete schedule of the museum's exhibitions and events is posted on the Mead's Web site: www.amherst.edu/museums/mead/schedule. The Mead Art Museum houses the art collection of Amherst College, totaling more than 16,000 works. An accredited member of the American Association of Museums, the Mead participates in Museums10, a regional cultural collaboration. During the academic term, the museum is open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to midnight and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, please visit the museum's Web site, www.amherst.edu/museums/mead, or call 413/542-2335.