The Dorsky Museum Celebrates Twenty Years in New Exhibit

samuel dorsky museum 20th anniversary
"The Dorsky at 20" exhibit showcases all of the work that the museum has done for the SUNY New Paltz Community.

On Sept. 11, the Dorsky welcomed a new exhibit into their lineup: a gallery honoring their 20th anniversary of operation on the SUNY New Paltz campus, entitled “The Dorsky at 20.”

The museum’s history started in the fall of 2001 when the dreams of Samuel Dorsky, Niel Trager and several other artists came true on the night of Oct. 20. 

The exhibit will be located in the Sara Bedrick gallery, and is being curated by Dorsky staff members Amy Frederickson and Wayne Lempka. It will be available for public viewing until Dec. 12. 

According to a sign near the front of the room, this exhibition is the first half of a two-part celebration that will be displayed in the museum over the course of their anniversary year. 

“The art works included here mark the celebratory nature of reaching an important milestone in our history,” the sign continues. “More importantly, these gifts honor community and culture; they reflect on our past but also help to guarantee a future in which we can continue to educate, entertain and engage audiences far and wide.”  

The works of art featured consist of donations and gifts from museum contributors, with pieces dating back to the 1860’s being on display.

Most of the artists featured have origins in upstate New York, including locations such as Oneonta, Newburgh, New Paltz and other townships in Ulster County. There are also artists that have roots in New Jersey, and even different countries as shown in a series of drawings gathered from the archives of multiple French artists.

In the middle of the gallery resides a set of newspaper clippings commemorating landmark events in the Dorsky’s history, one of them being an New Paltz Oracle article from 1999 announcing the building of the museum.

“This gallery will be the second largest of all in the SUNY system, as well as the third largest in the region, totalling 17,000 square feet,” an excerpt from the story reads. “It will contain 9,000 square feet of exhibition space, including the already existing 4,100 square feet as well as studios and classrooms.”

Another piece of the Dorsky’s origins featured is a shovel used in the groundbreaking ceremony of the museum that happened in 1998. It hangs on the walls of the gallery and contains signatures of the guests that attended the ceremony.  

By making a left when one enters the room, viewers are greeted by a bust of Samuel Dorsky himself created by artist Loyd Glasson in 1971. The description is a short overview of Dorsky’s life and career.

“Dorsky had a long history of supporting university museums as well as other small museums outside major cultural centers to provide their students and their communities with original works of art to study and enjoy,” it says. “His lead gift to the SUNY New Paltz Foundation provided the vision and impetus for the construction of a new museum building…generating the enthusiasm and momentum that we continue to experience today on the campus and in the community.”

In the middle of the room, one can find a collection of ancient Chinese artifacts and statues from the 13th and 14th centuries, donated to the museum by an anonymous contributor. A few steps down and one is greeted with modern statues, sculpted by Grace Baskt Wapner in 2004, which resemble trees and use garden imagery. This juxtaposition of time periods is just one of the many examples that show the range of donations curated for this exhibit.

Despite there being many works of art from around the world, a good percentage of the art is focused on local scenes from the Upstate New York area. With titles of paintings such as Newburgh Heights Looking South, ca. 1683 by Thomas Benjamin Pope and Shawangunk Correctional Facility — Wallkill, New York, 2002 by Sandow Birk, the Dorsky, which has played a huge role in the development of the Hudson Valley arts scene, pays homage to the artists that have helped them gain the recognition they have 20 years later.

A booklet that visitors can take in front of the exhibit brings up the fact that the Dorsky opened up shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. 

“Today, as we mark our 20th anniversary, we are in the middle of another war, that of a world pandemic,” it’s reflection, written by curators Waynre Lempaka and Amy Frederickson says.

In 2020, the museum had to close in March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Its doors were shut for six months, but has since bounced back from its period of struggle. This powerful exhibition showcases how the museum, its staff and curators and the artists themselves have taken this pandemic and turned their hardships around. 

“Today, as we mark our 20th anniversary, we are in the middle of another war, that of a world pandemic,” it’s front page says. “These two crises, bookending a twenty-year period, demonstrate that the arts can survive and act as a healing force in times of uncertainty.”

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About Alli Dempsey 30 Articles
Allison (Alli) Dempsey (she/her) is a fourth-year journalism major and communications minor from Staten Island, NY. This is her fourth semester on the Oracle, and third as Arts Editor. She is also a member of the WFNP Radio E-board staff, president of the New Paltz Music Collective and manages her own music blog, Twilight Collective. You can reach her by emailing dempseya1@newpaltz.edu.