In 2008, the Trinkett Clark Memorial Student Acquisition Fund was created by friends and family to memorialize the Mead’s former curator of American art, who died of cancer in 2006. For more than a decade, the Fund has invited students to select new artworks for the Mead’s permanent collection. The process is a crash course in art-world terminology, the vagaries of the art market, and how museums manage and expand their collections.
The inaugural acquisition, Gideon Bok’s Wingate Studios with Aldo’s Press #2, No Sleep till Hinsdale (2008), was selected by a group of student docents at the Mead. It was one of three artworks that the students presented to a mock acquisitions board, who delivered the final verdict on which piece would join the Mead’s collection.
Today, the process unfolds in an Interterm course offered every January called “Collecting 101: Acquiring Art for the Mead.” Small teams of students prepare an acquisitions proposal, which they present to Amherst students, staff, and community members. This event is open to the public, and every person who attends gets a vote.
H. Nichols “Nick” Clark, the widower of Trinkett Clark, attends the selection event every year and is its underwriter. He is thrilled with the impact that the Fund, which he replenishes each year with an expendable gift, has had at Amherst: 35 new artworks for the Mead so far and an ongoing introduction for students to one of the most satisfying parts of museum work—a legacy that he is certain would have delighted his wife.
Nick has plans to endow the Trinkett Clark Memorial Student Acquisition Fund with a bequest after his death so that the project can continue in perpetuity. Although he is not an Amherst graduate, Nick has developed a deep connection to the College through the Fund: “I give and will give more to Amherst than to my alma mater in great part because, even with a relatively modest amount, I have been able to create such a meaningful initiative.”
Hear more from Nick in the Q A below.
Q: The Trinkett Clark Memorial Student Acquisition Fund offers so much to Amherst students in terms of learning and experience. It benefits the Mead so tangibly. It is also a beautiful and meaningful tribute to your wife, one that blossoms anew each year. How does one imagine, design, and create such a multi-layered and purposeful gift?
A: I have to acknowledge Mead Director David Little’s predecessor, Lizzie Barker, for coming up with the idea. One of my mantras is that it married Trinkett’s love of students with shopping. Seriously, it is an initiative that is evergreen—we just completed the 10th program—and it has grown from an afternoon to a robust January term project that really opens the students’ eyes to the process of bringing a work of art into the collection. This evolution is deeply connected to the response of the students. They feel so connected to the process, and ultimately the presenters of the work selected have the satisfaction of knowing they had a direct role in bringing a work into the permanent collection.
Q: How are you involved with the students and the process by which they acquire new artwork for the Mead?
A: I am not as involved as I'd like to be—logistics being what they are. We often do try and schedule a Skype session so I can meet the students before the big day and get a sense of what they are considering. But it has really been the efforts of the staff at the Mead, to whom I am so grateful for their enthusiastic endorsement.
Q: What’s been the most surprising thing, to you, about the Fund and what’s resulted from it?
A: I think that what has been acquired on a relative shoestring [and I do hope to improve on this!] has made an impact. Going through the galleries this fall and seeing how many works from this initiative were on display in various sections of the Museum was tremendously satisfying. This is attributable in large part to one of the key criteria: how will this work serve the academic community at large? So the pieces are selected for aesthetic and educational merit.
Q: Which is your favorite work of art that’s been acquired through the Fund? And why?
A: I cannot answer this at the moment—it's like asking Who is your favorite child?! They may be planning a 10th-anniversary exhibition, and then it will be really fun to see the full measure of what has entered the collection. I probably still won't be able to identify a favorite!
Q: What do you suppose Trinkett would have loved most about this whole endeavor?
A: She would have loved the idea that the students are being exposed to one of the truly hands-on and most satisfying aspects of museum work. The process—decision-making, advocacy, joy of success—and, yes, the disappointment of not getting your selection passed. Also, that the modest nature of the budget really forces one to look carefully and flesh out the most significant work within the budget.
Q: You are not an Amherst alumnus yet your philanthropy and engagement here have been ongoing and robust. Can you talk about your sense of connection to Amherst?
A: Through Trinkett’s work at the Mead and my own work at the Eric Carle Museum, I met a number of her Amherst colleagues in various departments: Sam Morse, Howard M. and Martha P. Mitchell Professor of the History of Art and Asian Languages and Civilizations and Chair of Art and the History of Art, who ended up curating an exhibition for me; ditto for Ilan Stavans, Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture; Peter Lobdell, Senior Resident Artist in the Department of Theater and Dance, Emeritus; and Billy McBride, Assistant Athletic Director for Diversity and Inclusion, Director of Club Sports and Senior Coach. Trinkett had incredible radar and figured out Billy had been a golden gloves boxer and asked him to talk about the Bellows boxing prints.
I also used the library extensively, meeting many wonderful and helpful people there. And, after Trinkett died, the College hosted her service—this was incredibly meaningful. So yes, I have developed a deep connection to Amherst. I continue to give here because such an intimate program is possible at Amherst. Happily, though a modest program, it has generated keen enthusiasm among the students, and the College has recognized this.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about why this gift is important to you?
A: I think I've used up more than my quota!
See the full list of works acquired through the Trinkett Clark Memorial Student Acquisition Fund. Below please see images of the two pieces most recently acquired through this fund.
Last year, Amherst launched Promise: The Campaign for Amherst’s Third Century, a five-year, $625 million comprehensive campaign, which will preserve Amherst’s longstanding strengths while supporting the College's ambitions to innovate in instructional and curricular practices. The campaign will ensure that the College has the students, faculty, facilities, and resources to extend its leadership into the future.