Today, the Berea College Art Collection features over 14,000 pieces of art that have been purchased or donated over time. Some of the most valuable works of art were gifted to the art department in 1961 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. This organization’s goal was and is to promote and aid the work of individuals and institutions, like Berea College, with the study and teaching of the history of art within Europe, from antiquity to the modern age. Samuel Kress’s collection prominently featured paintings and sculptures by masters of the Italian Renaissance. After becoming a founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. and donating hundreds to other museums across the country, the Kress Foundation divided another 200 paintings between colleges and universities. These were to serve the purpose of appreciation, interpretation, preservation, and study of the Italian Renaissance masterpieces. Berea College was one of the institutions chosen.
Correspondence between Mary Davis of the Kress Foundation and Lester Pross, current curator of the galleries and professor in the art department at the time, was extensive throughout the process of receiving the paintings. A new gallery had to be built courtesy of Doris Ullman, but also a new space for the gifts from the Kress Foundation had to be constructed. One of the conditions of receiving these older paintings was that they needed proper storage, care, and a gallery space worthy to hold them. Because of Doris Ullman’s patronage of a gallery space, the Kress Foundations gifts, and Lester Pross’s insistence that new classrooms, studios, and office spaces would be needed as well, President Hutchins agreed to the construction of an extension onto the Rogers Art Building. That extension is now referred to as the Traylor Building, or more commonly, Rogers-Traylor.
During their correspondence, the Art Department was allowed to apply for certain artworks from the Kress Collection. In various letters, Pross indicated an interest in one of the El Greco scenes. Unfortunately for the college, the one particular piece that was not given to the National Gallery was donated to the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. However, the eleven paintings and one sculpture that were received were important and valued in their own right and have served their purpose well at Berea College since their arrival. Of the ones asked for in a letter to the Kress Foundation, Berea College received 4- The Crucifixion with St. Jerome, a Donor, and His Family, The Nativity, Scenes from the Life of Moses, and The Flagellation.
When construction was finished and the artworks chosen, the college held an opening ceremony on November 12, 1961 in the Phelps Stokes Chapel where the Kress articles were dedicated. Music was played on the organ, which was also donated by the Kress family. In a letter to the Kress Foundation, Lester Pross wrote “The Kress Collection at Berea will vitally serve to bring all of our students and their families and friends and our neighbors into direct contact with real and significant art. The difference between the rich original and the pallid reproduction of a picture will be one of the great revelations, as the artist speaks personally through his work to other men.” Today, the Kress pieces are shown in the Berea Gallery of the Rogers-Traylor Art Building where they are some students’ first interaction with real art outside of the Appalachian area.
Attributed to Bartolommeo Neroni, Holy Family with Saints John and Catherine, 1540.
Florentine School, close to Botticini, The Crucifixion with St. Jerome, a Donor, and His Family, 1475-80.
Follower of Francesco Francia, Madonna and Child with the Infant St. John, 1475-1515.
Francesco Torbido, Double Portrait of a Man and Woman, 1516.
Giovanni di Francesco, The Nativity, 1450.
Italian School, Madonna and Child, 1600-50.
Lorenzo di Niccolò, Madonna and Child with Saints and Angels, 1375-1400.
Master of the Apollo and Daphne Legend, Scenes from the Life of Moses, 1500.
Follower of Parmigianino, Portrait of a Young Woman, after 1532-33.
Follower of Pesellino (Francesco di Stefano), Madonna and Child with Angels, 1450.
San Martino alla Palma Master, The Flagellation, 1340.
Venetian School, A Pagan Rite, 1500-25.
All of this information came from the Art Department's files on the Kress Foundation. For more information, contact Meghan Doherty at firstname.lastname@example.org