Bellarmine Museum to Open in October

Published on September 27th, 2010

Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Museum is on schedule for an early October gala and a series of special events for University trustees and the wider community celebrating its completion (http://www.fairfield.edu/arts/bell_index.html) It will open to the public later that month. The museum is located in the modified Tudor and Gothic style mansion, circa 1920, that houses the offices of the University president.

Designed by Jim Childress, FAIA, and Stephen Holmes, AIA, of Centerbrook Architects, the museum features three distinct galleries, as well as spaces for staff, a classroom, and art storage and prep areas. It will house temporary exhibitions and the university’s collection, including Renaissance and Baroque paintings, plaster casts after Greco-Roman antiquities, and non-Western art objects. The museum also will host twenty pieces from the Celtic and Medieval periods that are on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art/The Cloisters.

Centerbrook Partner Jim Childress said that the thick concrete walls in the catacomb-like basement of the original mansion conveyed a sense of mystery. “If you step through the small basement door of the lobby, you discover a place of refuge away from the world,” he said. “The gallery form we designed was inspired by an almost complete cruciform plan that we discovered in the basement.”

He added that the substantial change in elevation from the basement hall to the main gallery allowed for the design of large stairs reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence. “So we transformed the stairs into a special entry to the galleries, and we exposed some of the original concrete arches leading to a side gallery,” he said. “We also used modern materials and textures sympathetic to the original Bellarmine Hall and The Cloisters.”

“It was a joy to work within such a beautiful building, although we were challenged somewhat by the existing low ceilings,” Holmes said. “We added a ceiling accent element that helps reinforce the cruciform shape of the plan, houses the lighting, and creates a higher ceiling. In Cast Corridor, which leads into the main gallery, we also added thick arches inspired by the existing ones to establish a few distinct smaller spaces to display art that is more appropriate with a lower ceiling.”

The renovation project grew out of a multi-year initiative to enhance the teaching of art history and the humanities at Fairfield, and was sparked by a 2008 donation by school alumnus and trustee John Meditz, class of 1970. The Bellarmine Museum will also complement the existing Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery, which holds temporary exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.

“Centerbrook’s painstaking attention to detail and thoughtful engagement with our programming has resulted in a compelling new art museum," said Jill Deupi, the museum’s director. “The Bellarmine is not only welcoming and elegant but also meets rigorous technical standards. We are thrilled with the results, and look forward to welcoming the public into these glorious spaces this fall.”

The central gallery, Frank and Clara Meditz Gallery, will focus on Medieval and Renaissance art and will have two adjacent gallery spaces, one to display plaster cast copies of renowned works of Ancient Greek and Roman sculpture, and the second reserved for the university's outstanding collection of non-Western art from Asia, Africa and the Americas. A corridor gallery will showcase other works of art in Fairfield's permanent collection.