From Caltech to the Norton Simon Museum, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to Craig Ellwood Associates’ modernist design for Hillside Campus, Pasadena has always been a city of art and science. Art Center’s Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery is a perfect fit for a city like Pasadena, establishing a national reputation for its exhibitions exploring the boundaries, relationships and perspectives on art and science.
© Steven A. Heller/Art Center College of Design
Drawing inspiration from all areas of Art Center’s educational programs, the gallery’s mission is twofold: to serve as an active partner in the education of our students, who will shape visual culture in the future; and to engage the broader public community in a progressive dialogue about art and design for the 21st century.
We caught up with Vice President and Director of the Williamson Gallery, Stephen Nowlin, to learn more about his relationship with the gallery and to find out what we can expect in the coming year.
Dotted Line: You have a long history with Art Center.
Stephen Nowlin: I do. The first time I visited Art Center’s Hillside Campus—shortly before I became a student, and before there was a single tree growing on campus— was to see an exhibition by the famous photographer Richard Avedon in 1976. The first show I helped curate for the College was a retrospective of the pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, a few years later in ’79.
I’d learned about Art Center in high school—and at the risk of dating myself, that was before the College had moved to Pasadena. I used to visit the Third Street campus and stare in awe at the drawings in the little hallway gallery, and then I’d go home, get my pencils, and imitate what I’d seen. I earned my BFA from Calarts, but came to Art Center a few years later for my MFA. Then, three weeks after graduating, I was hired by Laurence Dreiband to teach a couple of painting classes and to help with recruitment for the Fine Art Department. I was terrified of teaching for the first time, but also grateful for the job.
There was no Williamson Gallery back then. There was the student gallery, and occasionally shows like Avedon’s were organized and installed in a studio space shared with the Transportation Design Department. In those days, it was not unusual for staff to wear multiple hats, and so I was also conscripted to help Midge Quenell, who was a sort of quasi-provost and seemingly in charge of all things having to do with admissions and curriculum, in addition to many other things. One of her duties was changing the student gallery at the end of each term, and overseeing anything exhibition-related. Things just kind of grew from there. From the perspective of hindsight, I realize how privileged I’ve been to have had an opportunity to shape the Williamson Gallery’s exhibition program from its earliest beginnings.