50 years ago, Marion Wilner brought the arts to Fall River's BCC
By Linda Murphy, Lifestyle Editor - October 28, 2015
With a blank canvas and a seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm, Marion Wilner created the art program at Bristol Community College. Fifty years ago, Wilner was called on to teach an art history class at the newly formed community college, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. They needed a class to fulfill a humanities elective, she said, and founding president Jack Hudnall called on Wilner to teach it. A native of New York who studied at Parsons School of Design, New York University and the Art Student's League, Wilner was already known in the city as one of a group of people who founded the Fall River Art Association. "I wasn't an art historian, but I figured I knew as much about art history (from college and teaching art) as anyone around here, so I started teaching art history. And it became a very popular course" recalled Wilner. Two years later, she was teaching five classes a week and bringing students to museums in Providence and Boston to see the work of the artists they studied in the humanities elective.
There were 17 people at the new community college back in 1965, she said, including founding president Jack P. Hudnall, who brought the concept of a community college to Fall River from Brooklyn, New York, where he was dean at a community college. The new community college took over the former Durfee Tech building when Southeastern Massachusetts University moved from that site to Dartmouth.
"It was a very exciting time. None of us had a concept of a community college or how to prep students for where they would go from there," recalled Wilner. "We ended up (creating) a two-year career track program from which students could get a job," recalled Wilner.
There were also a fair number of students, about 60 percent, she said, who would transfer to a four-year college.
And for those students, Wilner spent a lot of time in the early years meeting with faculty at UMD to design the Art Transfer Program.
Wilner created an arts major that reflected what four-year colleges would seek in a transfer student covering all the basics: drawing, two-dimensional design, three-dimensional design and color theory. She also created an arts program for students who were not artists, but wanted to incorporate art into programs for children and adults with disabilities.
"It was a big challenge. It wasn't the kind of job where you went to work and came home. It was exhilarating; a group of us were creating an institution for this area to benefit the area's students. I think it was an ideal job and nobody told me what to do," Wilner said.|
In the mid 1980s, Wilner went to Portugal to find artists for an exhibit at the college. "It was very validating for the (numerous) Portuguese students to learn that there was a lot of contemporary art in Portugal," said Wilner. A year later, she arranged for an artist in Portugal to come to the college as an artist-in-residence. The exhibit of the artwork from Portugal, which was displayed in the foyer of the Margaret L. Jackson Arts Center, sparked Wilner's next goal: a permanent gallery where students and artists from outside the college could show their work in a protected space. "I wrote lots of letters and memos and they finally agreed with me. (Then-president) Eileen Farley had an interest in art and she was very supportive," said Wilner.
Wilner, who retired in 1989, saw her vision of permanent exhibition space come to fruition in 2000 with the Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery. An exhibit opening today at the gallery showcases her artwork and the work of three other artist-teachers as part of the college's 50th anniversary celebration. "I'm very proud of the school. They've fulfilled way more than their mission - it changed Fall River. When I first started, there were students who didn't bring their books home, because their parents didn't want them to go to college after high school," said Wilner. "It was very hard for people who were not accustomed to education to understand the investment in their life for a better job, to become a more educated person and to lead a richer life. But now people do understand that."
© 2015 The Herald News. Some rights reserved. Herald News Photo by Jack Foley
By Deborah Allard, GateHouse News Service - April 7, 2011
FALL RIVER - A drop of watercolor paint pooled and ran down the paper canvas, creating a vivid dimensional effect in Marion Wilner's painting of Sicily in her "Remembered Journeys" collection. An artist for many years, ("It's a big number," she quipped) Wilner still finds excitement in discovering new techniques and mediums.
One of her recent finds is Yupo paper, a waterproof synthetic paper that does "interesting things" when mixed with watercolors. "It's almost like working on glass," Wilner said. "You can do overlays. It runs. It puddles. It's very freeing.
The medium works nicely with her Tuscan and Sicilian buildings and landscapes, where the color oozes like gelato on a summer day. Wilner, a painter and printmaker, taught art and was chairwoman of the Bristol Community College Art Department for 25 years, retiring in 1990. Her studio is a transformed garage behind her Highland's home where she paints, draws, and makes prints on her own press (a retirement gift to herself).
Another of her new endeavors is a series of etched prints having to do with star seeking that will keep her busy for the next year. She's created her own plates and designs. "It's something I just learned how to do," Wilner said. "I'm very excited about it. It's going to have something to say. It's current and it's historic."
Wilner spends most days out in her studio where she can create. She often participates in figure drawing with the Portsmouth Arts Guild. Drawing, she said, is a skill the artist must continue to practice. She also creates small watercolors, mainly of "wonderful sunsets" in her leisure time.
Wilner, a mother of three sons - a neurologist, a urologist and an astrophysicist - and a grandmother of three boys, doesn't consider herself retired as is plain to see. Her husband Myron is an accountant and has also continued to work past the traditional retirement age.
"I love doing skies," Wilner said. "There's something spiritual about skies."
She's used a combination of sky scenes and varying landscapes from her travels to Italy to create a series of monotypes. "I do a lot of things at once," Wilner said. "I love working with color."
Wilner started painting when she was 10 years old, but she may have been an artist even before those early days. "I remember drawing at 2- or 3-years-old," Wilner said. "I was always excited by papers, pencils and crayons." She studied at New York University where she earned a master of arts degree. She's been exhibiting her work since the mid-1950s.
Most recently, Wilner has had solo exhibitions at the DeBlois Gallery in Newport and the Providence Art Club. Her work has also been exhibited at the Tiverton Town Hall, Judith Klein Art Gallery in New Bedford, AS220 in Providence, Gallery 297 in Bristol, R.I. and more. Wilner has won numerous awards for her work.
Wilner has been a member of the Fall River Cultural Council since 1989. She earned an "Outstanding Community Service" award from the Greater Fall River Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry and is a BCC Professor Emerita of Art.
Wilner will judge "Celebrating the Wonders of Nature", an upcoming exhibit at the Greater Fall River Art Association, 80 Belmont St. The exhibit, will hang from April 30 to May 31. The opening reception is April 30 from 4 to 7 p.m.
© 2011 The Herald News. Some rights reserved.
The Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery
at Bristol Community College.
When artist-teacher Marion Wilner was appointed
to the faculty of Bristol Community College in 1966, the College's
first year of operation, art was not a high priority in the
curriculum. The study of art was viewed, perhaps, as a luxury in a
community that needed jobs and a work force with practical skills.
This narrow outlook did not prevail for long. Marion Wilner brought
to the College not only her great skill and dedication as a
teacher, but also a deep understanding of the potential of art as a
focus of study and career preparation.
Thanks to her vision and enthusiasm, the College's art program evolved over time to include an officially recognized Art Transfer program. The addition of commercial art eventually led to a full array of fine arts courses as well as graphics, electronic imaging and web design offered today.
Throughout her career at Bristol Community College until she retired, Marion served as a gifted teacher and director, working with great purpose and energy to promote excellence in the Art program. She chose new faculty who themselves were working artists capable of adding excitement and innovation to the program. She cultivated connections for students at art schools and baccalaureate institutions and educated them about viable career paths.
It is especially fitting that much of Marion Wilner's lifetime of creative work is displayed at the beautiful Grimshaw - Gudewicz Art Gallery at Bristol Community College. The gallery's soaring light-filled space is an apt metaphor for the high and enlightened aspirations she held for the College and its students, generations of whom will benefit from her outstanding legacy.
Eileen Farley, President Emerita, Bristol Community College
have come home again... In this gallery space that I dreamt of,
desired, planned for and finally helped to make come true."
"I signed on to the Bristol Community College mission at its birth, and that decision made life and work inseparable. While I taught my students what making art was about, I learned how to expand the mind and heart. Encouraging each student's individual growth sustained and inspired my own.
Creativity is rooted in the urge to make connections, to touch the past, and define the present. Nature has been my touchstone, and drawing has been my passion. The search for continuity led me to incorporate classical myths and biblical narrative into my figurative work. The human body speaks to me of strength and spirit.
I grew up between the twilight of Cezanne and the sunrise of Abstract Expressionism. My work seeks to combine the freedom of painterly gestures with control and preservation of the image. I enjoy experimenting with a variety of media as I explore new directions. Printmaking has given me great pleasure and many surprises.
For an artist, every day is a new beginning. I thank my friends, my colleagues, and especially my family for enhancing those beginnings with understanding and appreciation."
"Through her works, Marion Wilner explores
connections between generations and asks fundamental questions
about our relationships to the world around us. How do we change
from one era to the next? Are there universal themes that bind us
to each other, ones that go beyond our cultural and experiential
"Wilner's works convey hope, promise and a desire for meaning that transcends the physical bonds of this world. She borrows traditional symbols, motifs and themes and then reinvents them for herself. These investigations reflect a lifelong committment to realism, the study of the figure, classical ideals and her heritage. Marion Wilner's distinctive approach to her work has allowed her to roam freely throughout an interesting landscape... And there she has found her voice, her moment of grace."
Kathleen Hancock, Gallery Director, Grimshaw-Gudewicz Art Gallery
Original works, images and content © 2007 - 2015 Marion Wilner. All rights reserved.