History of These Halls: Heimbold Visual Arts Center

Miniature of Heimbold made during its planning phase.   2014_208 & 2014_210 – Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Miniature of Heimbold made during its planning phase. 2014_208 & 2014_210 – Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Sarah Lawrence College was among the first universities at its founding to have both a liberal and visual art program, simultaneously. It was also among the very first liberal arts schools in the country to give curricular prominence to the creative and performing arts equally. One creative nucleus of the college today is Heimbold, a space devoted to SLC’s visual arts programs.

Heimbold’s home on Kimball Avenue is relatively young, especially in comparison to the nearly 80 years that its various departments were sprinkled around campus. Sculpture, painting, printmaking, and photography all took place in Bates. Drawing and Visual Fundamentals classes met in the Performing Arts Center, and filmmaking was distributed amongst Rothschild, the Performing Arts Center, and Dudley Lawrence. The number of students enrolled in those programs has undergone many changes throughout the years. From 1980 until 1984, approximately 145 students were enrolled in the Visual Arts. This was a manageable number for the existing spaces, whose individual rooms could accommodate 10-12 students at a time.

However, after 1985 enrollment increased to over 200 people and studio classes were stretched beyond capacity, with around 15-16 students in each. According to Alice Ilchman, (president of SLC from 1981-1998) some 30 to 40 students were turned away each year due to space limitations. When enrollment peaked in 1999 with 286 students—a number that included 42 students in painting, 30 in sculpture, 55 in film, 60 in photography, 34 in printmaking, 17 in drawing, and 30 in Visual Fundamentals—it became clear that spatial limitations were becoming too restrictive.

Original painting studio located in Bates.   2014_209 – Photograph by Sarah Lawrence College Office of Publications. Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

Original painting studio located in Bates. 2014_209 – Photograph by Sarah Lawrence College Office of Publications. Courtesy of the Sarah Lawrence College Archives

So, as the College approached the new millennium, plans for a more suitable arts building began to take shape. The dialogue in defining a space and the importance of discussing the future of Sarah Lawrence as a visual arts college became a major topic of discussion. It was noted that the building should cater to the growth of the art program itself, as well as its ability to adapt as art changed.

One prominent figure in this idea was Mr. Carmen Colanguilo, director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia, who had recently headed the development of arts facility buildings there. His familiarity with what challenges the project would present and his knowledge of architecture that fit art instruction in higher education, lent themselves to the issues at hand at SLC.

One task force meeting in particular, during which he acted as facilitator, focused on a new way of looking at the building process. He emphasized the question, “With whom do you interact?” Rather than asking, “How many square feet do you need?” It was this angle of thinking that propelled forward many of the plans for the building.

Another integral factor moving forward with the building plans was faculty involvement. In this realm, questionnaires were created in order to address any needs or concerns faculty members wished to express. The questionnaire included questions such as: “What do your students require for their individual atelier/studio space?”, “What type of critique spaces are desirable?”, and “What type of spaces afford opportunities for exchange, communication and dialogue among students and faculty?”. Each of these are part of careful consideration that surrounded the project in its many stages.

Next, logistics such as location needed to be addressed. Originally there were two options for where Heimbold should stand; the first was the Lynd site and the second was Slonim. Furthermore, the space in use for the visual arts before Heimbold existed totaled 22,126 square feet, and hopes for the new site ranged between 60,000 and 70,000. Construction began on November 19, 2002, and two years later the building was complete.

A large team contributed and through the help of a number of donors and alumnae, including Monika A. Heimbold and her husband Charles A. Heimbold, the structure was erected. One speaker at the Groundbreaking Ceremony noted that the Heimbolds should be recognized as a few of the people who gave the project “momentum to move ahead… through their leadership and generosity.” Monika A. Heimbold graduated from the Center for Continuing Education in 1985, the same year as her daughter Joanna Heimbold, who quoted her mother’s word of gratitude in regards to the building: “I want to thank all who turned our need into a desire, and the desire into a reality.”

The Heimbold family thus helped to inaugurate the building on its grand opening weekend Nov. 4-6, 2004. Over 600 people attended. Festivities included a ribbon cutting, presided over by President Michele Myers (1998-2007) as well as speeches by various alumni. The Mayor of the City of Yonkers and various friends, family and community members all gathered for this Grand Opening weekend. A screening of alumni John Avnet’s film “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was included in the main events. In addition, the inaugural exhibit of the Barbara Walter’s Gallery, titled “Forging New Visions” and including current and former faculty art, was a central draw of the program.

Heimbold has stood now for 10 years. It encompasses 61,000 square feet of space and was built to be environmentally sound. It sustains most of its basic needs via recycled materials such as rock excavated from the sight, cork floors, and use of existing sunlight, each of which cater to the building’s green initiative. Furthermore, the rear façade is covered in local stone and the building in its entirety is heated by way of geothermal wells. Special venting systems reduce exposure to chemicals and vapors, and the exterior wood slats are from renewable forests and the grass of the front quad doubles as the roof of the lowest level of the building. Heimbold also caters to the art created within its walls.

In fact, it is stated that in many ways Heimbold is representative of the abandonment of the old idea, “separation of disciplines in the studio”. It instead allows for the collaboration of ideas and encourages dialogue between disciplines. Faculty member and sculptor Kirt Roesch, who taught at Sarah Lawrence from 1934-1972, noted, “Art education makes sense only if art is conceived to be as central to life and to education as any other activity, and is not merely tolerated as a ‘cultural ornament.’” Heimbold embodies this goal.

by Svea Conrad '18