Section: Arts

Kenyon’s beginnings on display in Bulmash Exhibition Hall

Kenyon’s beginnings on display in Bulmash Exhibition Hall

Abigail Tayse, left, and Eve Kausch gathered archival materials from Kenyon’s first 50 years. I BRITTANY LIN

In honor of Kenyon’s bicentennial, students coming to Chalmers Library’s Bulmash Exhibition Hall will find a collection of items that provide glimpses into the first 50 foundational years of the College from 1824 to 1874. The exhibition is named “This Will Do,” after the exclamation uttered by Philander Chase as he was “standing upon the trunk of a fallen oak, and permitting his eye to pass around the horizon and take in the whole prospect,” and decided to make the Hill home to Kenyon College, as written in The Kenyon Book published in 1890.

According to Outreach Librarian for Special Collections and Archives Eve Kausch, “This Will Do” is the first installment of a three-part exhibition series for the bicentennial. After spring break, the current exhibition will be replaced by one covering the next 50 years, from 1875 to 1924. The last installment, which will be on display in the fall of 2024, will showcase the transformation of the College over the last 100 years and will be curated in part by the students in SOCY 291: Special Topic: Sociology of Collective Memory. 

The exhibit presents the foundational history of Kenyon through a diverse array of artifacts. The five cases display well-preserved photographs of several existing buildings, such as Old Kenyon Residence Hall, Rosse Hall and the Church of the Holy Spirit in their early years. Seeing the weathered photographs, visitors can gain an appreciation of how these regal, distinct buildings have a long history. In addition to photographs, early images of the campus are captured in more intimate ways: handmade renderings. On either side of the main gallery wall are an early sketch of Old Kenyon drawn by Philander Chase in 1829 and the woodcut panel depicting the lodge of Kenyon’s oldest fraternity, Delta Kappa Epsilon, created by a member of the class of 1876.

Alongside these images are letters with personal accounts of the conversations about Kenyon at the time. In a letter Lord Gambier sent to Lord Kenyon, he congratulated the College’s namesake for his involvement in the establishment of Kenyon: “May you rejoice my dear Lord for having so large a portion in promoting so divine a Cause.” As one of the first 29 students to sign the Matriculation Book, future president Rutherford B. Hayes (Class of 1846) commented on the tradition in a letter to his mother, calling it “a heathenish rite imported from England.”

“It’s always fun for me to look through all the student materials through the years and see how much everybody is the same,” said the College Archivist Abigail Tayse. “There’s a lot to relate [to] for students… They were working on the Collegian; they were working on the [Kenyon] Reveille; they had student groups that they were part of.” Similar to the buildings, long-standing organizations around campus can trace their lineage through the items at the exhibition such as the first issue of the Reveille in 1855, the meeting minutes of the Harcourt Parish in 1831, or the first volume of the Collegian in 1856 that was opened to a review of Longfellow’s “The Song of Hiawatha” poem, which started with the sentence “What is poetry?” 

 The exhibition’s introductory plaque reads, “You will not see many women in these first fifty years and just one student of color,” reminding visitors that while the presence of the voices showcased at the exhibition can tell us a lot, the absence of some is no less meaningful. In the “Notable People” display case, among the prominent alumni such as David Davis (Class of 1832), former U.S. Supreme Court justice, or military engineer and Kenyon’s third president David Bates Douglass, was Y. K. Yen, who went on and became an influential translator and Episcopal church leader in China. “It was very typical in the middle of the 19th century for students from Asia and Africa to come to the United States to study religion,” Tayse said. “It was really important to me that we try to show that [Kenyon] did have some diversity. It wasn’t great, and we have to acknowledge that. […] As archivists, we took a lot of time finding the voices that were missing in your archives.” 

The bicentennial is an opportunity for the Kenyon community to reflect on the various ways the College has both changed and remained the same over its 200-year history. The exhibition, on display until spring break, is a good place to start.

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