Bertha V.B. Lederer: The cornerstone of Geneseo's progressive art galleries

The Bertha V.B. Lederer Gallery, located in Brodie Hall, hosts an incredible variety of exhibits, including visual and performance art by students, staff and outside artists. The gallery, which was established in 1966, would not exist without the enthusiasm and assistance of Bertha Lederer, from whom it derives its name.

A faculty member at Geneseo for over 30 years and eventual chair of the art department, Lederer’s influence over the prominence and prioritization of the arts had a significant impact on the college.

According to Director of Galleries Cynthia Hawkins, when Lederer began her teaching career at Geneseo, Brodie Hall had not been built or planned. Her insistence on the importance of art was a driving force in its creation.

“She wanted students to have access to the arts … whether it was visual, dance or theater, she considered it important, and because she considered it important, other people did,” Hawkins said.

Even after Brodie Hall and its gallery were built, Lederer’s influence was far from over.  She immediately set to work searching for artists to feature in the museum. She became the gallery’s director and curator with minimal staff for assistance.

Hawkins described Lederer’s philosophy as “a little ahead of her time.” Instead of only teaching her students to create art, a feat within itself, she also “was very interested in preparing her students to work in a museum,” Hawks said.

Lederer even created new classes such as Museum Studies to further prepare her students to pursue careers in art.

Lederer’s participation in the art community extended far beyond Brodie Hall.  According to the gallery’s website, she also formed the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts and was a member of organizations like the National Arts & Humanities Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, the State Education Department in the Arts and the American Association of University Women.

Lederer died in 2009, but Hawkins said that she works to ensure that Lederer’s legacy lives on through her current maintenance of the galleries. The current mission of the gallery is to present both contemporary and historical works to Geneseo students as well as the surrounding community.

The gallery works as an interdisciplinary field, with exhibits such as “The Ecology of Food: Past, Present, Future” involving students from the anthropology and history departments.  The gallery shows predominantly full-time artists, but annually features senior theses with biannual faculty exhibits.

The Bertha V.B Lederer Gallery’s current exhibit, “From the Studio: 2013 Faculty Exhibition,” will show through Oct. 10.