After 18 years and nearly 100 exhibitions, Roger Hankins retired as director of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery in September 2019. His 2001 arrival in Worcester followed a two-decade career as head of gallery at the University of California.
Hankins is quick to credit Paula Rosenblum, Cantor’s assistant director for communications and operations; professional art installers Tim Johnson and Frank Graham; and Holy Cross faculty, staff and students when reflecting on his work at the College. In 2017, he received the 36th annual ArtsWorcester Award, presented to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to arts and culture in Worcester.
I’d say it was a willingness to bring, for the benefit of the students and faculty as well as the community of Worcester, a rigorous, ongoing program of exceptional art presentations. The exhibitions I tried to present, no matter the theme, culture or historical period, were about creativity, excellence and the human condition. I also enjoyed working and collaborating with so many talented faculty, staff and students to see their ideas come into being through those many exhibitions.
There was a certain kind of magic we — the gallery staff and I — were able to pull off in order to present the broad range of challenging exhibitions we set out to do.
Most the work we accomplished was very much behind the scenes. I would work for months, and sometimes for a year or more, planning how to borrow, prepare, transport and bring artworks to Holy Cross, and then how to get these objects physically into O’Kane Hall and the gallery.
Pre-planning was one thing, bringing crates from art shippers’ trucks into O’Kane was another. My job, and that of Tim Johnson and Frank Graham, both professional art installers, was to safely move crates and objects into the gallery, no matter how large or heavy. Of course, the reverse is true as well — everything that went up had to come down. We did that flawlessly for 18 years, which was an accomplishment.
It’s hard to distinguish what show I would be most proud of; there were many! I’d say the top would be: “Big Idea: The Maquettes of Robert Arneson” (2003); “Terri Priest Interactions: Paintings and Works on Paper” (2005); “Create, Part I and II” (2012); “Katrina Then and Now: Artists as Witness” (2015); “Woven Power: Ritual Textiles of Sarawak and West Kalimantan” (2016); “Robert Beauchamp: Four Decades of Work on Paper” (2018) and “Rodin: Truth, Form, Life” (2019).
Roger Hankins in 2001.
My last exhibit I organized for the gallery was for Holy Cross Professor Todd Lewis and Harvard Professor Jinah Kim, curators of “Dharma and Punya: Buddhist Ritual Art of Nepal.” This exhibit seemed at times to be an impossible venture, but in the end it was an extraordinary exhibition that I hope everyone involved was proud of. Without Paula Rosenblum working alongside me, these exhibits wouldn’t have worked as well.
The senior exhibitions — and I don’t say this lightly — were some of the more interesting and more unpredictable shows that we worked on. Every year, a different group of students were graduating, and there were always lots of challenges, but the energy, the caliber of the work and the professionalism that the art department and their students brought to the Cantor was really the icing on the cake each year.
I came from a much larger institution, where most everybody was pretty siloed into the particular department or college they belonged to. At Holy Cross, there has been a willingness to cross whatever lines you could cross, to do something creative and for the students. That was an incredibly refreshing experience for me. I found it surprising how many great ideas kept coming from faculty members from a range of disciplines to undertake developing exhibition content with us. I think we took on ideas and projects that surpassed what a smaller college art gallery could present.
I’m returning to my own practice of art — sculpting. I have been slowly building up steam to re-emerge into what I have wanted to do for a number of years. I have an 1800s house with a reasonably good-sized, and almost completely weather-proofed, barn that was built in 1900. I am doing a lot of little construction projects to winterize that space. I’m looking forward to spending a lot more quality time with my family and spending many days working on my own art projects, not to mention enjoying seeing exhibitions at the Cantor Art Gallery, Yale, Boston and New York.
Written by Jane Carlton for the Winter 2020 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
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