Not all the art in the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art hangs on its walls. Not by a longshot.
More than 9,000 works are stored in a room off the third floor in the Max Kade and Erich H. Markel Department of Graphic Arts. That's where the museum collection of prints, drawings and photographs lay waiting for students or the public to investigate.
The man who supervises the collection is Stephen Goddard, an assistant professor of art history and curator of prints at the museum. Visitors can enter his sanctum and view a wide variety of works by some of the great artists of their time.
"It's here for students and the public,'' Goddard said. "We encourage people to call first, in case there's a conflict with a class in the print viewing room. But we make an effort to let people know we're here and available.''
IF PATRONS decide they want to look up the work of a particular artist, all they need do is tell Goddard or one of his museum trainees, who keep regular office hours during the year in the graphics department. If they describe what they're looking for, the staff can pull either a print or photograph or any number of works from the ordered, cool stacks in the back of the department. They then place the prints either on the desk or on wooden holders, and if the visitors' hands are clean they can go through pieces of this vast collection.
Goddard, an enthusiastic scholar of prints, also teaches the history of the art. He often pulls together shows in connection with those classes; for example, "Woodcut: A Technical Appreciation" was held last spring at the museum and traveled to Salina.
ONE OF the challenges of teaching prints is getting students interested in the field.
"Certainly I try to get students enthusiastic in prints as a work of art," Goddard said. "Art on paper tends to be harder to develop interest in. It's slightly off-putting, somewhat elitist. But even though it's harder to ferret out interest in these prints, a lot of students do eventually find these works rewarding.''
Just as an example, Goddard during a June interview opened one of the long, black boxes containing some French prints and flipped through them. One was a print by Alfred Jarry, better known as the playwright who wrote "Ubu Roi.'' Another print, by Toulouse-Lautrec, stands out for its dynamic color.
PRINTS, drawings and photographs are stored together in Goddard's section of the museum because they require about the same kind of environment to survive, he said. The room is kept dark and at a constant temperature, with a low level of humidity. Works on paper are harder to preserve than those on canvas because paper is far more vulnerable to aging.
Goddard sees a great deal of strength in the Spencer's collection, including some 2,000 Japanese prints that once formed the nucleus of the museum's collection. Added to that number are about 3,000 Western prints, 1,000 drawings and about 2,000 photographs, culled from gifts and acquisitions that have gone on since the turn of the century.
THE COLLECTION is weaker in the areas of 18th century and contemporary prints. But Goddard said he's always on the lookout for a good acquisition.
"When I'm teaching a class, sometimes I hit areas that we don't have good examples of, and I either have to show the class a bad reproduction or no reproduction," Goddard said. "So when I come across a good example I know I should buy it.''
Many contemporary prints have become prohibitively expensive with the explosion in the art market among the most famous of artists.
"If it's a choice between a modern print and a Rembrandt, I really question spending that much money on a new work versus one that has withstood the test of time," Goddard said.
GODDARD FREQUENTLY shares students with the printing faculty in the School of Fine Arts, which includes John Talleur and Cima Katz. Talleur's classes often visit the department, and when his classes are small enough Goddard brings them up to the Art and Design Building print shop to run through a few techniques.
"It's not unusual to get someone taking printing and print history in the same semester," he said.
Goddard has looked at the medium from both sides as well. He studied printmaking at Grinnell College and the Minneapolis College of Art before ending up in the art history program at the University of Iowa. He studied Flemish prints for his dissertation, and he is developing a show on turn-of-the-century Belgian prints.
A NUMBER of museums he's encountered have user-friendly print rooms like the Spencer's the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Art Museum and many university museums, to name just a handful, he said.
"Those rooms are very accommodating," he said. "Some rooms are really only storing depots between decompressions for exhibitions. But others are user friendly.''
This semester, Goddard said he plans to teach a course on connoisseurship, which could end up helping students go through the Spencer's print, drawing and photograph collections.
"It's a little old fashioned," Goddard said. "But I think it's good to teach the basics about how to know what you're looking at is any good.''