Dartmouth Receives Its First Fine Art Piece

As Dartmouth's art collection, which now includes over 65,000 works, has grown, so too has engagement with these "curiosities".

The collections of art and artifacts at Dartmouth can be traced back to the College's founding in 1769. At the school's second commencement in 1772, Dr. John Phillips gave the young institution 175 pounds with which to acquire a "philosophical apparatus" (a standard set of scientific equipment). That same year, Reverend David McClure, a tutor at Dartmouth, wrote to President Eleazar Wheelock that he had acquired "a few curious Elephants Bones" for the school. In 1773 the College received its first fine art piece: a silver monteith from John Wentworth, royal governor of New Hampshire and a Dartmouth trustee.

While these three objects seem an eclectic beginning for what is now known as a museum of art and material culture, we must think back to the concept of a museum in the the eighteenth century (which has a surprising resonance with the Hood today). During that time, such collections were generally referred to as cabinets of curiosities, which could consist of anything from fossils to antiques to ethnographic artifacts. Furthermore, Dartmouth's traditional role as a college in rural New England inspired a commitment to providing students with examples of the "natural and moral world" beyond their immediate surroundings, giving birth to a collection of objects capable of teaching lessons about science, nature, and cultural history.

Read more from Hood Quarterly, Autumn 2008

Image courtesy of the Rauner Special Collections Library