Between curating art shows at Geneseo’s three major campus art spaces, handling gallery budgets and maintaining Geneseo’s art collection, Director of Galleries Cynthia Hawkins has become an expert when it comes to on-campus art programming. Hawkins is responsible for filling the Lockhart, Lederer and Bridge Galleries with thought-provoking exhibits each semester. She said the goal of Geneseo’s art collection is to ensure that those works have meaning in an academically curricular setting. As a curator, finding this meaning often involves investigative research and experimentation.
Hawkins has found recent success in attributing value to Geneseo’s collections. The college’s Wescott Collection is an incomplete late 19th-century collection that was very obscure, until she stumbled upon more of the works at the historical society in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
Similarly, Hawkins couldn’t locate information on a mysterious collection of folios full of prints of Roman architecture. The only evidence to their history was an Italian text accompanying the collection. She initiated an effort by professors in the department of languages and literatures to translate the texts, and they are currently uncovering the collection’s entire history.
“Now you have a whole new attitude toward it, a whole different historicism belongs to these little etchings, from which you can get a really interesting story,” Hawkins said. “You have to spend time with these objects in order for them to speak to you.”
Of the several exhibitions put on this semester, Hawkins said that “Customs” is the one that stands out most to students, crediting its community involvement as something that makes it delightful to people.
Hawkins began art directing when she was an adjunct professor at SUNY Rockland Community College, where she would host exhibitions in the college’s library. Hawkins joined Geneseo seven years ago while she was working on her master’s degree thesis in museum professions at Seton Hall University.
Hawkins is currently working on her Ph.D. in American studies at the University at Buffalo, with a focus on the history of the museum and how it intersects with citizenship, race and identity. According to Hawkins, the Western conception of the museum came from the French Revolution as a way to redistribute art from the royalty to the people.
“Some people don’t want to even talk about the museum in terms of its educative roots,” Hawkins said. “In Egypt, the pharaohs had little rooms with collections of objects that were used to teach the pharaoh and the children about themselves, their culture and their environment … I don’t think that should be brushed off.”
Hawkins also has an artistic career of her own. She originally went to school to study painting at Queens College and received her Master of Fine Arts degree from Maryland Institute College of Art’s Mount Royal School of Painting.
Hawkins employs color field abstraction techniques, which are bright and often focus on patterned geometric shapes within. Her frequent illustration of arrows creates a sense of motion, giving her work a branded appearance.