On the morning of January 20, 2018, 29 alumni, hailing from the Class of 1959 to the Class of 2016, and 18 of their friends and spouses gathered on campus in the Angello Alumni House.
When is a basket more than a basket? When it’s a work of art.
On the morning of January 20, 2018, 29 alumni, hailing from the Class of 1959 to the Class of 2016, and 18 of their friends and spouses gathered on campus in the Angello Alumni House. After breakfast, they boarded shuttle buses bound for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Pamela Koehler, part-time professor of art and art history, would provide a guided tour of the season’s must-see exhibit: Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection.
More than 400,000 people toured the exhibit during its run from June 2017 to February 2018. And that’s with some stiff competition at The Met from exhibitions of the works of David Hockney, Auguste Rodin, Irving Penn and Michelangelo. The Abbey exhibit received rave reviews from critics, including those with The New York Times, The New Yorker and the New York Observer, which noted, “Japanese Bamboo Art demonstrates how bamboo can be used in an unforeseen way, and it’s a show full of surprises.”
And so it was. The surprise that bamboo—a utilitarian material—could be used to create such a range of beautiful objects, from traditional baskets and tea accoutrements to abstract representations of waves, light or modern skyscrapers, and even a jaunty bowler hat. The surprise of looking closely to see the detail of how the bamboo is woven, twisted and plaited:
Some pieces are made in a coarse, open weave, while others form intricate patterns so precise it seems impossible they were made by human hands.
And the surprise that when Diane Abbey ’59 and her husband, Arthur, learned about the Adelphi trip, they decided to join their fellow alumni to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for art, sign copies of the museum exhibit bulletin and pose for photos.
Transforming the Art World
Diane and Arthur told the group that they couldn’t be more delighted that their collection has resonated with art critics and visitors to The Met from around the world. “The accolades the show has received are mind-boggling,” Diane said, adding that she attributes the exhibit going viral, so to speak, to the excellent curation and, “because it’s something new. Everyone knows what a basket is, but not what it could be. It’s a brand-new form of art.”
Arthur added, “The show has transformed not only the Japanese department but the entire museum. We never thought we’d have a single-collector show at The Met. It’s like magic how it all came together, like a fairy tale. Most of these pieces were picked by Diane, who never took an art course in her years at Adelphi and just has a great eye for nice things.”
The Abbeys’ life has been a bit of a fairy tale as well. Both grew up in the Hempstead, New York, area. Diane came to Adelphi and majored in speech and minored in education. She encountered financial difficulties in her third year and was able to finish her studies thanks to a scholarship. She went on to teach English in the Bronx for 11 years, “and I loved every single day of it,” she said. “Adelphi is very dear to my heart, because it gave me an education and a profession.” In turn, she has given back by establishing scholarships so students who want to teach can continue their education.
An Appreciative Audience
“Diane and Arthur were incredibly warm and gracious, and so generous in sharing their time and insight with us,” said Koehler. “It was great to meet and spend the afternoon with so many alumni at The Met, and to share the experience of this incredible exhibition.” Victoria Roberts, M.S.W. ’14, a Nassau County Offender Reentry Task Force Program coordinator, said, “We did not know we would meet the Abbeys and get a private tour of the exhibit. The Abbeys had a wealth of knowledge that they freely shared. They answered many questions about their lives, their baskets and how they acquired them. This was a great experience. Thanks, Adelphi!”
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