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The Hugh Morton Jr. Collection Honors and Inspires Artists

by Shannon T. Zarb  |   Back to Table of Contents


If you’re curious about the eclectic collection of art lining the hallways of the Fine Arts Center, just ask a student. Chances are they’ve studied a piece or two as part of their art class.

The brainchild of iconic North Carolina artist Bob Timberlake, the collection was established to honor Hugh Morton Jr., a prolific photographer, editor and producer. Now numbering more than 80 pieces, the Hugh Morton Jr. Collection serves as both an ever-expanding legacy and a valued educational resource.

A FITTING TESTAMENT

Many years ago, Morton used his background in advertising and public relations to help bring wider public recognition to Timberlake’s paintings. When Morton died in 1996, Timberlake, wanting to honor his friend, donated a painting and some pottery to Ravenscroft, where Morton’s wife, Pansy, was a teacher and their son Jack ’96 was a recent graduate. Timberlake’s gifts were the first pieces in what would become a significant collection.

In the 20-plus years since, visual arts faculty have partnered with students in fifth through 12th grades to select new pieces. Visiting local art galleries to explore artists’ work, the committee uses funds from donations and gifts to secure selections. (In the past, students raised money by selling their own artwork as well.) Student involvement ensures the collection remains valued and relevant to the entire school community.

“The committee looks for artists working at a high level who speak to the movements they represent,” Joyce Fillip, Upper School art teacher and resident expert on the collection, explained. “When we make a purchase, the process tends to be organic.”
 

CONNECTING YOUNG ARTISTS TO CURRENT ARTISTS

While the art is valued for its intrinsic worth, faculty make sure the lovingly curated collection also does its part to fulfill Ravenscroft’s mission. Art classes regularly visit the hallway galleries, exploring a particular work or comparing and contrasting pieces to analyze the many ways artistic expression takes shape.

“The most recent piece I’ve used is Silvia Heyden’s tapestry ‘Golden Flow.’ We look at several different styles of tapestries, and I include Heyden’s as one with a contemporary, abstract design,” Lower School art teacher Amelia Karpowitz said. “It is so beneficial to connect young artists to current artists. It lets students know that art is a living, breathing experience and that they have just as much right to participate in it as anyone else.”

One of the more personal pieces in the collection is a painting by Melissa Brown ’89, an abstract painter and a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, who passed away in 2001. Done when she was a fifth-grader at Ravenscroft, “Peony” was recently given to the school by Brown’s parents and dedicated to Fillip, a cherished mentor from Brown’s time at Dartmouth.

“The painting poignantly reminds us of our role in nurturing and developing talent in all of our artists,” Fillip said.
 

THE BIGGEST OF DREAMS

As the collection has grown, pieces have been displayed in different spaces across campus, including the former Library and Technology Center. Last summer, the entire collection was exhibited in the Fine Arts Center’s Pugh Family Lobby — a reunion Pansy Morton would love to see made permanent.

“If I could have the biggest of my dreams, there would be a space reserved just for the collection,” she said.

After all, big dreams are what the Hugh Morton Jr. Collection is all about. From its beginning as a four-piece tribute to one man’s memory, to today — its many works imbued with both the artists’ vision and the artistic fervor of students spanning two decades — this one-of-a-kind collection embodies the spirit of inspiration within us all.

The Hugh Morton Jr. Collection: In this video, visual arts faculty and students discuss the impact of the school’s collection.

Sandra and William Brown dedicated their daughter Melissa ’89’s painting, “Peony,” to Upper School art teacher Joyce Fillip in January 2019.

The collection’s eclectic character is in part a reflection of the diverse group of students who have helped select pieces over a period of 20-plus years.

One of several Bob Timberlake pieces in the Morton collection, “Mrs. Leonard’s Marigolds” carries a handwritten inscription from the artist to Hugh Morton Jr.

Silvia Heyden’s tapestry “Golden Flow” has been used by Lower School art teacher Amelia Karpowitz in a lesson on weaving.