Artist’s legacy takes shape on both campuses

By Laura Mortkowitz

The long walks around campus are going to have some eye-catching differences from previous years. Students will probably notice the addition of six large sculptures on Rider’s two campuses.

Rider received six sculptures from the private collection of sculptor Isaac Witkin, who passed away last April. The works displayed on Lawrenceville’s campus are The Hunt, Chesterwood, Night Rupert, Shogun and Dirge, while Westminster Choir College received Taurus.

Witkin’s last exhibition was in the Rider Art Gallery. His daughter, Nadine Witkin, chose Rider because of her father’s regard for the University and for Professor of Fine Arts Henry I. Naar. Nadine Witkin told Naar that her father was thrilled with his reception at Rider and how Naar handled the development and organization of the show.

“She felt that Rider might be a good place to present some of his outdoor sculptures on an extended loan,” Naar said. “We don’t own them, but they will be housed here at Rider for however long the University and the artist’s estate designate it.”

Witkin’s work is on exhibit in many public and private collections worldwide, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum in New York and the Tate Gallery in England. Although other universities and sculpture gardens wanted Witkin’s work, his daughter felt a strong connection to Rider, said Naar.

Six of his works are already near Rider as part of the permanent collection at the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.

“Witkin was the very first artist to have work at the Grounds for Sculpture,” said Naar. “And that link became stronger with us also being here. If historians or students of art wanted to further study Witkin’s work they would have the opportunity here, plus also at the Grounds for Sculpture. So it really presented itself in a unifying force.”

Nadine Witkin’s choice to bring the sculptures to Rider helped develop an idea Naar had been thinking about for a long time.

“It really opened the door for having sculpture on campus,” Naar said. “I really wanted it to come about with very special work and this was sort of a tremendous offering because of who he was and the quality of the work both historically and artistically.”

Building upon his belief that “art is not only meant to be inside but also outside,” Naar said the sculptures work well in the environment because they breathe.

“So, you can look at the sculpture on a sunny day and it will reflect and respond to the environment in a particular way,” Naar said. “And you look at it on a rainy day and nature plays an active role with the sculpture. We spent a lot of time figuring out the placement of the sculpture as it related to its own shape and how we thought it would relate to the environment.”

Naar, Dean of Libraries William Chickering and Associate Dean of Students Larry Johnson will work with Nadine Witkin to develop educational materials that incorporate the pieces’ history as well as Witkin’s contributions to modern sculpture.

“What I had in mind is to use the sculptures as an integral part of the art classes we teach here,” said Naar. “Hopefully, other departments will use the sculpture to develop ideas relating to observation and writing.”

Naar hopes that with these pieces, students will begin to make connections about the sculpture and the art. He wants people to think beyond the typical question of “what is it?”

“It’s really about form and shape, rectangles and triangles, and how they interplay with each other,” he said. “It’s going to be there on a continuous basis and it’s going to force people who don’t get it to think about it a little bit more: to discover. And that’s what education is about.”

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