Unexpected Art: The Chancellor’s Residence Displays Student Art

Large student painting
Rachel Deane, oil on canvas, “Dwelling Object (How Cruel for a Day Like Today)” hangs in the living room of the chancellor’s residence at UC Davis. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

This is the first in a new Arts Blog series featuring art found in unexpected places, going beyond the typical galleries, museums and specific exhibitions.

Written by UC Davis News and Media Relations intern Leigh Houck

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May and his wife, LeShelle May, live at the Chancellor’s Residence, across the street from the Davis campus. It is not only their home, but serves as a gathering place for many visitors to campus as well as a place for student, faculty and staff events. As a prominent campus feature, it’s only fitting that it displays unexpected art on its walls, much of it created by student artists from UC Davis. 

Undergraduate art decorates the gallery

Jennifer Zimmerman, event and residence manager for the Office of the Chancellor, says that the tradition of showing undergraduate art each year at the residence started in 2012, with Chancellor Linda Katehi. “It is really fun to show work from students near the beginning of their art education ... and then also at the MFA level,” Zimmerman said.

The gallery room, where a majority of events at the residence are held — from student dinners to staff breakfasts — is also the home of the majority of Aggie-made art. Visitors eat and converse surrounded by a variety of paintings, drawings and other visual arts, all made by undergraduates.

Three paintings
The work of students Yuanting Cai, Design; Kristianne Kyle Villarta, Art Studio; and Cassandra Dias, Art Studio, hang on the residence walls. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

The majority of the pieces are from the Study Abroad Art Trip “Art Studio in Paris and the French Riviera” that is led every summer by Gina Werfel and Hearne Pardee, professors in the Department of Art and Art History in the College of Letters and Science. Under the professors’ guidance, undergraduate students draw and use acrylic paints to record scenes from their travels. Many of the pieces are part of assignments inspired by artistic movements (such as Cubism) or color palettes (like Monet’s Nympheas Bleus and Degas’ The Ballet Class). The pieces depict France through an artist’s eye: Colorful streetscapes and beaches take the viewer on vacation even in the rainiest Davis winter or a 100-degree day.

Graduate work adorns the living room

The living room at the residence is also home to student art. Every year, a graduating MFA student from UC Davis is selected as the winner of the Keister and Allen Art Purchase Prize. The award, established in 2017, is made possible by Shaun Keister, vice chancellor of the UC Davis Office of Development and Alumni Relations, and Walter Allen, interim support services supervisor, IT Express, UC Davis.

The graduate student who wins receives prize money and has one of their pieces added to the university’s Fine Arts collection. They also get to have their art displayed in the Chancellor’s Residence. This tradition started with Chancellor May and Mrs. May in 2017, said Zimmerman.

This year, the prize was awarded to Rachel Deane. Her oil on canvas, “Dwelling Object (How Cruel for a Day Like Today)” hangs on a wall in the living room. A blond woman is depicted in an ambiguous glowing shroud or halo, holding a bouquet of flowers against a background of a city in shades of blue and purple.

Chancellor residence art
LeShelle May greets visitors in the residence where student art hangs on the walls. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

“Students consider it an honor for their artwork to be displayed at the residence. For some undergraduates, it is their first public show,” said Zimmerman. And, it begets opportunities for some of them, she added. In the past, students have sold pieces to various members of the community, even one to a French consul. 

Up next in Unexpected Art — an interesting take on city utility boxes.

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