The collection is one of the first projects of the President’s Art Commission, established last year by President Philip Ryken. “As I walked around campus I realized that there are many ways we can improve the overall aesthetic of our campus and display works of art that are beautiful, that are thought provoking, and that pose significant questions for us to wrestle with. I wanted to pull together our artists and other members of the community that could advise us on what kinds of art we should display around campus.”
Art Department Chair Joel Sheesley, who was appointed as the head of the commission, partnered with Associate Dean of Biblical and Theological Studies Dr. Jeffrey Greenman to develop the exhibit in the new home of the Biblical and Theological Studies Department. They spent months combing through the Billy Graham Center Museum collection, purchasing a few more key pieces, and commissioning works by Wheaton professors to help tell the biblical story.
The exhibit begins on the east wing of the fifth floor with an illuminated vellum page from a 16th century Latin worship guide that serves as a preface to the entire display. The vellum, translated with the help of Professor of Ancient Languages Dr. Mark Thorne, tells the story of the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. Viewers are then led down the hallway through the biblical narrative, from creation to new creation, with notable scenes from the Old and New Testaments, such as Moses’ giving of the Law and the conversion of the apostle Paul.
Dr. Greenman explains, “I hope that people can experience the core truths of the biblical narrative in a fresh and powerful way as they view the exhibit—seeing the way in which it flows, how the pieces fit together, and the way in which Jesus is really the center of it all.”
Juxtaposed at each end of the hallway are two original works by Wheaton professors, depicting the birth, crucifixion, and ascension of Jesus. Professor Sheesley’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” inspired by Hugo Van Der Goes’ altar piece and Morten Lauridsen’s Latin Matins by the same name, portrays a newborn Jesus on the pavement flanked by animals. Professor David Hooker’s “Corpus” is a five foot “sculptural meditation on the death and resurrection of Jesus” and hangs opposite the nativity scene. The antique corpus is covered in layers of dust from vacuum cleaners across campus as a representation of Christ taking our sin upon himself.
“This is exemplifying a really wonderful partnership between theology and art on campus,” Dr. Greenman says. “I think to have four different Wheaton College artists with their work displayed up here is a wonderful tribute to them. We have Rembrandt, Marc Chagall, and lots of others, but we also have Joel Sheesley, David Hooker, Greg Schreck, and John Walford. It’s a blend of the old with the new.”