By Julia Maltz, Multimedia Copywriter at Saint Joseph’s University
When you envision Saint Joseph’s University’s campus, nestled perfectly between Philadelphia and the Main Line in Pennsylvania, you might picture blossoming trees lining Drexel Library, fierce evergreens hugging Barbelin Hall, or a sun-soaked quad — but do an arboretum, art museum and spectacular art collection come to mind?
Art has always been at the core of Saint Joseph’s. “Before there were classrooms and laboratories, even before there were students and faculty, there was art at Saint Joseph’s,” noted Carmen Croce, curator of the University art collection and director of Saint Joseph’s University Press.
The Jesuit art collection in Philadelphia can be traced back to 1776 when Rev. Joseph Greaton, S.J., founder of Old St. Joseph’s Church, received three paintings from England. Succeeding pastors, including Rev. Felix Barbelin, S.J., and Rev. James Ryder, S.J. (who would later become the first and second presidents of Saint Joseph’s College), enhanced the collection with new gifts and purchases. Over the years, cherished gifts from University alumni and friends have also transformed and diversified the collection.
Today, Saint Joseph’s art collection is teeming with remarkable pieces. It includes about 3,500 works, and has particular strengths in Colonial Mexican painting; 19th- and 20th-century European stained glass; and Greco-Roman, Gothic and High Renaissance bronze and plaster casts, among many other areas. Some significant examples include rare, full-scale High Renaissance casts, Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures, Andy Warhol screenprints, more than 150 Warhol Polaroid photographs, and plaster casts on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Both works from the collection and student pieces are proudly displayed around campus in places like Regis Hall, home to the Office of the President, the Maguire-Wolfington Welcome Center, and the Post Learning Commons. The University also has two galleries located in Merion Hall and Boland Hall. The Merion Hall Gallery hosts seven shows per year; the first six feature professional artists and the seventh show, the senior arts thesis exhibition, highlights senior art majors’ and minors’ projects. The Boland Hall Gallery showcases alumni work, student work and summer scholar student pieces.
A Longtime Partnership and a New Art Museum
In 2018, the University and the Barnes Foundation celebrated a long-term educational affiliation with the launch of the Barnes Arboretum at Saint Joseph’s University, an educational partnership expanding opportunities for students and the surrounding community to engage in horticulture education and the arts.
The property, located on the Merion side of campus, was bought in 1922 by Albert C. Barnes, M.D., and his wife, Laura Leggett Barnes. The two shared a passion for the arts and horticulture, and the Barnes Arboretum is a testament to their legacy. When the Barneses purchased the property, it already housed a collection of specimen trees that its previous owner, Captain Joseph Lapsley Wilson, had started assembling in the 1880s. More than a century later, the arboretum offers 12 acres of diverse woody and herbaceous plants.
The arboretum is home to the Frances M. Maguire Art Museum, named in 2018 in honor of Frannie Maguire, wife of Saint Joseph’s alumnus James J. Maguire ’58, for their lifelong support of the University and Frannie’s passion for the arts, education and culture. The museum will house pieces of the University’s permanent collection and will be a dynamic gallery set within the historic mansion and arboretum, integrated with the University campus.
Frannie Maguire, who passed away in February 2020, devoted her life to supporting programs that connect arts and scholarship. She was also a prolific artist herself, producing hundreds of paintings, sculptures and busts — many of Saint Joseph’s Jesuit leaders. A bust sculpted by Maguire of Michael J. Smith ’72, for whom the University’s chapel is named, was gifted to the University and is permanently displayed in the Chapel of St. Joseph.
In a 2019 Saint Joseph’s magazine article, Maguire’s daughter, Megan Maguire, president and CEO of the Maguire Foundation, said, “[My mother] enjoys a range of creativity. She looks at every piece of art and every experience with fresh eyes, as if she is seeing it for the first time. It is a great reminder of how you should look at life.”
Students in Saint Joseph’s Art and Art History Department are able to take advantage of the partnership and use the Barnes’ grounds and beauty as inspiration for their projects. The department offers courses on a plethora of subjects, including art history, graphic design, painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, pottery and more.
In addition, the University also offers a three-year Horticultural Certificate Program that adopts a comprehensive approach to horticultural science, methods and design, and uses the arboretum and its greenhouse as laboratories. A variety of other classes and workshops — such as photography and horticultural illustration — are offered for amateur gardeners and horticulture enthusiasts alike. In addition, the arboretum is open for visitors to enjoy the grounds through the seasons.
Art is integrated at Saint Joseph’s University in all facets — in and around campus, in its Jesuit history, and through its academic programs and opportunities for students and the community. In the spirit of Frannie Maguire, may we all experience these opportunities with fresh eyes.